Album Review: Shadow of a Doubt (ESGN, 2015)

With gangsta rap narratives delivered in a technically proficient yet street-smart manner and a flow reminiscent of 2Pac; Freddie Gibbs is an oddity in today’s rap scene, a scene which tends to favour a rapper’s “sound” and sonic aesthetic rather than their wordplay and overall skill. shouldn’t devalue the aesthetics of his individual albums. In contrast to the work of artists like A$AP Rocky, Run the Jewels and Travis $cott – artists who follow a constant artistic route, with only slight tweaks between albums – no two Gibbs records have stuck to the same stylistic path. Gibbs instead experiments with various producers while ultimately conserving his signature delivery and wordplay.

His most recent release Shadow of a Doubt shows the Gary, Indiana rapper moving away from the complex jazzy atmosphere present in his previous (and undoubtedly best) effort produced by the legendary Madlib. Instead, Gibbs opts for an Atlanta-inspired southern-fried aesthetic with instrumentals courtesy of Mike Dean, Kaytranada and Boi-1da, among others. This could ultimately be seen as a step back for Gibbs considering the critical and commercial appeal of his previous effort Piñata and the perfect relationship between Gibbs’s flow and hard-nosed “hood tales” and Madlib’s eccentric left-field beats. However, it becomes apparent that the marriage between “Gangsta Gibbs’s” rapping and these heavy hitting, trap-like instrumentals prove equally satisfying, making for one of Gibbs’ most sonically cohesive releases to date.

Tracks such as “Careless”, “Fuckin’ up the Count”, and “Forever and a Day”, highlights of this record, demonstrate the positives qualities of the merge between Gibbs’s lyrical style and the beats he is rapping over. The vocals and the instrumentals complement and feed off of one another in a way that is unique in Gibbs’s discography.

Tracks such as “Mexico”, featuring Canadian vocalist Tory Lanez, and “10 Times”, featuring modern day gangsta-rap heavy hitters Gucci Mane and E-40, highlight the impact that a fitting and dynamic guest feature can have on a track. Each of these artists brings their own personal touches to their respective tracks, further pushing the southern vibe suggested by the production. Despite this, the guests never detract or distract from Gibbs’ lyrical mastery and his spot as the album’s centrepiece.

Although “Basketball Wives” – a track which evokes the neo-R&B of Drake – fails to capture Gibbs at his best sonically and lyrically, it suggests a possible stylistic path for his future. 

Shadow of a Doubt is a record which sees rapper Freddie Gibbs exploring himself sonically through his instrumentals rather than through his wordplay. Although the sound curated by Madlib on Piñata suited Gibbs excellently and saw him at his peak, his new trap-inspired sound proves to suit his style just as much. Whether Gibbs will sustain this sound is hard to say – though considering his previous endeavours, it seems highly unlikely. A continuation of this sound, however, could prove rewarding to both the artist and the listener: Shadow of a Doubt possesses elements which could benefit from development if Gibbs aims to once again reach the heights attained on Piñata.



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