For the longest time, Freddie Gibbs has felt like a vagabond in the rap game; as our writer Patrick Lyons articulated in his review of the MC’s last studio album, getting a handle on the Gary, Indiana native’s stylistic lineage has always been a challenging task. Gibbs is as likely to draw from Scarface as he is from 2pac; he is as willing to go toe-to-toe with Black Thought as he is with Young Thug. Clearly, he is an unabashed student of the game that’s not necessarily a product of his region.

The DNA of Gangsta Gibbs is equal parts Ice Cube’s cerebral dissent of the status quo and Eazy-E innate sense of capitalistic anarchism. His discography is deep and intimidating, yet it only takes a cursory glance to realize that the candid MC has never shied from openly embracing and repurposing his influences. Some of his earliest mixtape efforts - midwestgangstaboxframecadillacmuzik; The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs - pay direct homage, while his more recent work teases his elusive history like easter eggs meant only for the most well-read of his hip-hop head fanbase.

After the bloodletting that was You Only Live 2wice, Freddie is a much-needed reset and is as unbothered as the former project was grave and ruminative. Over the years, the once reliably stoic delivery of Freddie Gibbs has picked up countless intangible tics including, but not limited to, aggressive syllable play, arpeggiated flows and a sneering, self-aware pizazz. And it’s all anchored by an ability to snake breathtaking visual narratives between high-octane bravado with melodic dexterity that harkens the likes of Outkast and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. Freddie Gibbs has been pushin’ heavy, hard-hitting rap for a decade straight now and he hasn’t “pulled a muscle yet.”

Rather, it seems like he’s learned to trust his muscle memory in a manner that has only benefited his songwriting. By relying more on the instinctual nature of his pen, Gibbs has boxed out room for him to dabble more with his flows, his hooks and his overall execution of it all. Because, yes, even after all the range he’s showcased across a career’s worth of mixtapes, features and full-length efforts, this mixtape still toes uncharted waters and teases further refinement of his craft.

As we all await Bandana, the rumored sequel to his 2014 opus, Pinata, this self-titled offering does more than enough to satiate our ravenous appetites, especially when considering the new ground being broken with first-time collaborators. After touring the world as a DJ for EDM outfit LOUDPVCK, Kenny Beats has recently been pulling off a silent coup in the rap game; by starting with underground ATL staples like Key! and now expanding to world-weary talents like Freddie Gibbs, Kenny has been adding some much-needed spice to the rap game. His diverse taste has allowed for some of the most refreshingly genre-less beats of the year and he shows no signs of letting up. Not only do his beats bounce like that of recent overnight sensation, Pi’erre Bourne, Kenny’s EDM background allows for explosive crescendos that are integral to the movement of each composition. Much in the same vein as an A-Track, Kenny Beats possess a fascinating ability to synthesize his various levels of classical training. The rapping on the consecutive run of “Set Set”, “Toe Tag” and “FBC” is as ferociously captivating as the Kenny Beats-helmed instrumentals are infectious.

Over the years, Gibbs has developed a blockbuster sense of showmanship that allows him to present the grit of his vendetta with a sheen of gloss that may now attract listeners foreign to the poetic realism of his autobiographical tales. While the project itself, due to the surprise release and niche promotion, may not do much to push Gibbs into the mainstream narrative, it’s digestible format makes it a great entry point for young heads whose OGs won’t stop pontificating about the rapper’s longevity, endurance and undeniable growth as an artist.

The uninitiated could probably use the structure of this self-titled project to paint Gibbs as a trendhopper, looking to capitalize on the revitalized prestige artists such as Kanye West, and the late-XXXTentacion before him, have added to the short-form project - but never has Gibbs shown a concern for the mainstream. Gibbs has carefully been easing into a new rhythm for a few years now, dating back circa-2013 where he preceded the release of Pianta with three concept EPs. However, where his efforts were once overlong and wrought with what would become overlooked and understated anthems, his albums are now concise, well-curated mission statements.

All this to say that Gibbs has continuously been experimenting with condensing a lifetime’s worth of narrative into increasingly catchy, yet profoundly confessional vignettes. Where Shadow of a Doubt was an uncharacteristic retread of current rap trends, it’s experimentation with form allowed for last year’s You Only Live 2wice to finally fire on all cylinders. With a harrowing tale to tell, Gibbs was able to utilize the latter album to make his stamp as one of the most innovative traditionalists on the scene.

Over the last half-decade of his career, Gibbs has successfully emerged from the cocoon of his grassroots origins into a self-made star. And on Freddie’s unmistakable centerpiece, “Death row”, the veteran trades nostalgic bars with his kindred west coast counterpart, 03 Greedo, both sounding as unbothered as ever, despite the latter rapper facing an imminent 20 year sentence for drug-trafficking related charges that date back to when the Watts native was homeless in a neighborhood of equally disenfranchised and oft-forgotten citizens. The “Boyz-n-the-Hood” sample, interpolated by Kenny Beats, elevates an already euphoric Greedo verse into the stuff of legend; the tragedy of his predicament is compartmentalized for a fleeting moment as Greedo embodies the legends he’ll one day join on the Mt. Rushmore of west coast rap. Just like Gibbs, Greedo doesn’t have swag or sauce, he’s got dri-ni-nip and the ability to ceaselessly will show-stopping verses out of thin air.

After weathering the proverbial storm these past few years, Freddie Gibbs finally sounds free. And with a loving family as his anchor, the 36-year-old rapper seems to be finding more inspiration from his hopes for the future than from the grim past he’s barely removed from. Sometimes, Gibbs still slips into a trance, recalling the haunting, cyclic nature of his past, such as on the poignant closing track, “Diamonds 2”:

I can't lie I’m still high on prescriptions
Sometimes I go weeks without no sleep, I'm in the 5th dimension
I just caught a body, Luca Brasi, he sleep with the fishes
Fucked up part is when I go to sleep I see this n**** image

But, more often than not, Gibbs is now able to find the purpose in his past sacrifices and revel in the current fruits of his labor.

Freddie is his most sublime work yet; by opening with the plight of his youth and concluding with the sampled whispers of his three-year-old daughter, Freddie Gibbs manages to present a more vivid glimpse into the soul of his art than any other major rap artist this past month.