Freddie Gibbs shows us all sides of Cocaine Rabbit on "$oul $old $eparately"

by Temi Akinyoade

Freddie Gibbs shows us all sides of Cocaine Rabbit on "$oul $old $eparately"

People are drawn to Freddie Gibbs for a few but very specific set of things: his charismatic humor flashing through adlibs and double entendres; and the contrast of his low-pitched, aggressive voice on smooth soul and jazz samples produced by Madlib or The Alchemist. Given this very specific reputation, I was worried about the quality of a Gibbs project that deviates from this formula.

Let me explain: between his last project Alfredo and the newly released $oul $old $eparately (SSS), Freddie Gibbs kept his fans fed with scattered singles. “Gang Signs” is a summertime song where Gibbs and ScHoolboy Q rap about crime and their gangsta pasts. With old flows and flat wordplay, the song wasn’t new for Gibbs, but it was consistent and got fans excited for SSS. Then “Big Boss Rabbit” dropped. Gibbs rapped fast on some uninteresting trap drums about the same things he usually does: women, crime, and wealth. The next two singles were basically the same, but the scary commonality between these songs was a lack of sampling. Again, Gibbs is famous for rapping over smooth jazzy beats, not some stale trap drums. None of those songs appeared on the tracklist for SSS, but I saw them as a hint of what was to come: was he experimenting with different sounds, or just gunning for a Grammy with a palatable and mainstream album?

The answer: it’s a little bit of both. To understand the album, we must first address the cover. A quick glance reveals its silliness: it’s the forehead and ears of the pink rabbit Gibbs has been aligning with his brand for a couple years posted in front of a UFO that has crashed and burned in the ground. It actually embodies the album very well: it’s a mess. Some serious songs paired with some lax and braggadocious ones, a couple of drunk voicemails from Joe Rogan, and a production style he hasn’t embraced before. Gibbs usually has something driving him to finish his music, and that drive improves his quality. Before Bandana, for example, Gibbs was almost imprisoned for a serious crime he didn’t commit, so he memorized some of Madlib’s beats and wrote the lyrics in his cell. On SSS, however, Gibbs is hungry for a Grammy, and there is no real theme except for “I’m back and better, watch what I can do.”

And maybe he can do a little more than his usual smooth and silky jazz raps. The album opens with “Couldn’t Be Done,” and while the song is a little awkward due to its unfamiliar style, it has strong intro energy. Gibbs is bragging and rapping on a loud brassy beat to create a triumphant beginning.

Fortunately, this strong introduction previews some quality records later on. Most of the tracks are at least slightly above average, but one that stands out is “Blackest in the Room,” a comforting visit from the Alchemist with an unexpected beat switch. It’s good old Gibbs: rapping on sampled hums, “oohs” and “aahs” about rising from jail to a rapper of GOAT status, but without sounding like something straight off Alfredo. “Space Rabbit” has an eerie yet mellow piano loop that Gibbs uses to rap about his rise as a rapper. “Zipper Bagz” features the same lyrical content as always, but with melody and a bass that isn’t too heavy – resulting in a refreshing advancement of his usual sound. “Rabbit Vision” employs a brash old-school beat and a relaxed flow to create the same allure as a Jay-Z song from the early 2000’s.

But there are a few tracks where Gibbs tries melodic trap and falls flat on his face. None of the songs are bad, per se – it’s just that when I hear them, I think about how much better a YSL crewmember would sound on the same beat. I can’t take “Dark Hearted” seriously because it’s too trap and not melodic enough for Gibbs. For once, he uses a different flow, but it ends up awkward, like he heard the beat and forced his flow to match the melody to a T. On “Pain & Strife,” despite a mediocre and boneless verse, Offset still manages to wash Gibbs. Everything about it is too much: the bass, Gibbs’s rapid fire rapping, and the overwhelming lyrical content dumped on listeners. There’s no balance to it, rendering the track completely forgettable. “Too Much” gives the listener absolutely nothing: it’s boring and stale, as Gibbs once again fails to bridge singing and rapping onto one track successfully. This isn’t to say Gibbs hasn’t sung well before: there’s a lot of it on his 2017 project You Only Live 2wice and on “Now & Later Gators” from Fetti. On these, he sings his heart out in a way so bold and unexpected that it’s amazing. On “Too Much,” though, Gibbs seemingly does everything possible to alter his rap cadence to fit the beat – and it just doesn’t work.

Another issue is the feature selection: most are just decorations. On “Gold Rings,” Pusha T sounds a lot more interesting than Gibbs without even trying. Moneybagg Yo, meanwhile, presents too little on “Too Much.” Musiq Soulchild’s verse on “Grandma’s Stove” just felt like filler. You may leave “Lobster Omelette” thinking “Wow, another good Rick Ross verse,” but that’s also nothing new.

At least this project gave us a whole new layer of Gibb’s signature humor. Gibbs rebrands “CIA” to stand for “Crack, Instagram, and AIDS.” The song has some very light social commentary on how those things have harmed the community, and then at the end we hear Gibbs and others laughing at his new take on the acronym as he keeps repeating it. In another song, a drunk Joe Rogan asks “Why do you love rabbits so much? Is it ‘cuz you’re always hopping out of your child support?”

Overall, $oul $old $eparately is a decent album. Gibbs’s albums never have a singular main idea, but this album doesn’t have much of anything holding it together, with such a wide range of sounds paired with repetitive lyrics. All in all, though, it’s an entertaining and refreshing record that deserves a listen from all Freddie fans.