By Henry Rowlands, Second Year English
On his 2019 album Bandana, his second collaborative record with Madlib, Gibbs rapped "I pray the streets don't take what's left of me / Drugs for the free, soul sold separately", illuminating the bitter reality of his former life of crime, feeling his soul was exchanged in the process. It's unsurprising, therefore, that he evokes this bar with the title of his new album, reflecting on the toll of his drug-pushing days as well as the adversity he has faced in the industry over the last decade.
As his Rabbit persona suggests, Gibbs has long been a plucky underdog in the rap game. It's no wonder he opens the album with 'Couldn't Be Done', a rousing R&B-inflected retort to doubters and naysayers. Though critically acclaimed, and esteemed amongst hip-hop fans, Gibbs has never quite broken into the mainstream. He has also faced his fair share of controversy, having been banned from Instagram and frequently getting into hot water with other industry players such as Griselda's Benny the Butcher and trap rapper Gunna (who dissed Freddie on his most recent album, tenuously rhyming Gibbs with "tellin' fibs"). Yet following on from a Grammy nomination last year for Alfredo, his album with The Alchemist, $oul $old $eparately shows Gibbs is still on top, with this his major label debut, having signed a deal with Warner Records in 2020 after years spent independent.
Gibbs is clearly pivoting to a more commercial sound here from the grittier cuts of previous records. The lead single 'Too Much' is, as it's name promises, a flashy display of wealth and excess, a genre-typical exercise in flexing. Although perhaps a clichéd avenue for Gibbs to pursue, it's enjoyable to hear him floating on such a beat, and later on the tracklist 'PYS', a collab with DJ Paul of Three 6 Mafia, feels like a club-ready banger. Nonetheless, Gibbs is ardent in avoiding the artistic pitfalls of more popular peers, opposing the recent trend of rap albums becoming glorified playlists, with tracks thrown together without a clear vision or creative throughline. As such, $oul $old $eparately is a concept album of sorts, with interludes of voicemails from some of Gibbs' famous friends - including Kevin Durant, Jeff Ross and Joe Rogan - trying to reach the rapper at the fictional hotel, resort and casino, the $$$.
Despite these embellishments, this is a deeply personal and self-reflective record. This might be the most candid Gibbs has been on the mic, opening up about the trials and tribulations of his journey; as he says on 'Rabbit Vision', "These diamonds come from pressure". On this song, one of the best on the album, he looks back to his underprivileged upbringing in Gary, Indiana, growing up "in the project alley" rather than "a sandbox", and how selling drugs as a way out fractured familial relationships. He is brutally honest about the tragedy of this lifestyle, ruminating on the pain of losing friends and the damage of his addictions on 'Zipper Bagz', and expressing remorse over failed relationships and heartbreak on 'Grandma's Stove'.
Whilst his collaborative albums such as Piñata and Alfredo were assisted by resplendent production from Madlib and The Alchemist respectively, they were classics because of Gibbs' technical prowess as a rapper. His gritty flow and versatile vocal performances are in full force once more on $oul $old $eparately, complemented by a Rolodex of impressive producers, returning with past collaborators and enlisting the likes of KAYTRANADA, James Blake and Anderson Paak. The latter provides a dynamic verse and chorus for 'Feel No Pain', a vibrant cut that also features Wu-Tang Clan's Raekwon. Gibbs has mentioned in the past the influence of 90s hip hop like Wu-Tang on his style, and he pays homage elsewhere to this era of rap that was so fundamental for him growing up. He interpolates the chorus of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony's 'Foe Tha Love of $' for the album's third track 'Pain & Strife', and on 'Gold Rings' he begins his first verse with a riff on Biggie's 'Me and My B***h'.
For me, 'Gold Rings' is the standout track of the album, not only for its thumping beat and Freddie's killer hook ("you ain't a killer, you a cartoon"), but thanks to a verse by the maestro of modern gangster rap, Pusha T. Fresh off the excellent It's Almost Dry, it seems he can do no wrong, and his chemistry on the mic with Gibbs is just as perfect as it was on 'Palmolive' a few years back.
$oul $old $eparately is not a perfect album: the hooks are not always the strongest, particularly on 'Zipper Bagz' and 'CIA', and features by Offset and Moneybagg Yo feel like treading water. Still, Freddie Gibbs' consistency is remarkable, another impressive addition to a superb discography.
Listen to $oul $old $eparately here:
Have you check out Freddie Gibbs' album yet?