Coming off the wild success of two collaborative albums from 2014, Piñata with the funky below-ground producer Madlib and The Tonite Show with DJ Fresh, Freddie Gibbs (Fredrick Tipton) has a lot of buzz going into his proper sophomore LP, Shadow of a Doubt. Like his studio debut (ESGN), this new project comes via ESGN Records, the Gary, Indiana native’s personal startup label and a venture more or less required of him after hardships at CTE World and Interscope Records. This dark, very gangsta entry in Gibbs’s growing album-catalog is essentially the rapper doing his usual street thizzle in his quick, 2pac-emulating flow of limited vocabulary and subject matter, and he hardly comes close to replicating the magic of the deceased West Coast legend. A cold remorseless album from the perspective of a wretched drug-dealer, Shadow of a Doubt spends too much time in the gutter than in self-improving study or reflection but makes up for itself in some ways near the close.
Concerned with proving his authenticity as a credible street vet in “Rear View” and alluding to his dope-pushing past in “Narcos,” Gibbs like before makes it his mission to deliver a traditional gangsta rap album, barring some updated producing measures. It is that fact plus his average song-writing abilities that make Shadow of a Doubt a mediocre project, respectable though it may be. The nice thing here is that with the help of the morose music and his character-style, Gibbs makes us feel the emptiness of being in the ghetto drug trade, transporting us into that world for the sake of understanding. “F*ckin’ Up The Count” and “Packages” are two good examples. There is a problem with his excessive hood-machismo though, and that weakness is exposed in “Lately” where Gibbs is worried about what people think and say about him. Perhaps he has a guilty conscience buried deep in his subconscious state; however, instead of getting worse, Shadow of a Doubt actually gets a little better near the end.
Thoughts of “making it” and “wanting to be legit” highlight tracks “Forever and a Day” and “Freddie Gordy,” respectively, and in “Insecurities,” the best offering on the entire project, Gibbs gets to talking about his daughter and how grateful he is to be able to raise her away from the dangerous street life he grew up in. That and the discussion he has with Black Thought from The Roots in the “Nautilus”-sampling “Extradite” about reparations in the black community are the only two instances of involved thought applied to solving a problem. Shadow of a Doubt is nouveau-gangsta that spends too much of its time being arrogantly hood-oriented. The synth and drill have been formulated to fit the hazy, atmospheric nature of today’s hip-hop, and truthfully, the mood of the music does match up well with Gibbs’s feelings. Additionally, the guest-presence has been controlled in quantity and quality so overall, the album has been executed quite well. Most important though, his rapping endurance and flow consistency are still positively off the chain! Shadow of a Doubt is good, but at the same time, it also leaves something to be desired.
Stream the album pre-release at Brand New Hip Hop or preorder a copy at Amazon, iTunes, Google Play or elsewhere for when it officially drops on Friday, November 20.