Freddie Gibbs is at a pretty great place in his career. It’s been almost 20 years since he released his first mixtape, Full Metal Jackit, back in 2004. It’s been over 10 years since he was named into the 2010 XXL Freshman class. But it’s really only been in the last five years or so — making two albums with producer Madlib and a Grammy-nominated album, Alfredo (2020), with producer The Alchemist — that Gibbs, now 39, has taken off and become one of today’s most highly regarded rappers.
At least, he’s regarded enough to fill up midtown Detroit’s Majestic Theatre and make the place move.
But before Gibbs’s performance, comedian-turned-comedy-rapper Zach Fox opened up the show. Fox got his first break in entertainment as a young writer on The Eric Andre Show, a fact that makes a lot of sense when you catch him in action. Fox opened up by asking everyone to meditate, and then guided everyone in what he called his “mantra”: a call and response of “Yeah, hoe! Yeah, hoe!” He then proceeded to rap his comedic rhymes, hyping up the moshing audience and turning the beat off for punchlines.
I chuckled through the whole set, and turned to my friend for knowing eye contact when the bars got especially frisky — frisky enough that my editor said I cannot repeat it in this publication. In between songs, Fox described his role well, saying, “I feel like a substitute teacher who lets y’all do bad stuff before the teacher comes in … lets you draw dicks on the chalkboard and shit.” And what more can you ask of an opener than to let you draw dicks on the chalkboard?
And then came the star: the Gary, Ind., rap-maestro himself, smoking a blunt in an unzipped varsity jacket, sauntering up to the microphone, smiling and nodding at the crowd.
“Make some mothafuckin’ noise, Detroit!” The Majestic crowd responded accordingly.
“Make some mothafuckin’ noise!” Gibbs said again. Again the crowd was right there with him. Gibbs would go on to repeat this refrain about making noise at least 17 times throughout the show. Each time, the crowd responded anew.
And then he rapped.
Gibbs started most of his songs a cappella, and would continue without any instrumentals well into the first verse, and even through the hook. It seemed like there wasn’t really a set list — Gibbs just rapped what he wanted to rap when he wanted to rap. That’s pretty rapper of him.
But given the emotional resonance of the instrumental production on Gibbs’s songs, there were times when I was disappointed by the a cappella rapping.
Madlib and The Alchemist, who have produced all of Gibbs’s last albums (and almost everything he performed at the show), are really some of the best producers in the business. They are the ones guiding the flow of the chocolate river that Gibbs uses to sell Wonka bars. Just give a listen to Scottie Beam or Crime Pays, and I promise you’ll taste that delicious chocolate. A word of warning, these songs are so smooth you might just find yourself drowning like Augustus Gloop.
This whole business of rapping a cappella at the start of every song was also tough on the DJ, Ralph. You could see him in the back scrambling to find the right beat and sync it up to wherever Gibbs was in the song. I know his name is Ralph because Gibbs cursed him out almost as much as he asked the audience to “Make some mothafuckin’ noise,” which, if you remember, was a lot. “Fuck you, Ralph!” he’d say, and then he’d ask the audience to do the same: “Fuck you, Ralph,” we’d all say, again, and again, and again. At a certain point, I thought it was all getting to be too much: “I love you, Ralph!” I screamed from my tippy-toes. I got a lot of weird looks for that one.
All in all, it was a pretty great time. Zach Fox was hilarious, Freddie Gibbs was surprisingly also hilarious (but for different reasons) and everyone was bouncing and moshing and having a blast.
Cheers to that.
Daily Arts Writer Joshua Medintz can be reached at email@example.com.