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Songs We Love: Freddie Gibbs feat. Black Thought, 'Extradite'

Freddie Gibbs.
Nick Walker
Courtesy of the artist
Freddie Gibbs.

Gary, Indiana's Freddie Gibbs is one of gangsta rap's last holdouts. Accomplished in indie circles, Gibbs churns out staggeringly consistent mixtapes and albums chock-full of Midwest gangland tales laid bare — his direct, highly technical rap style supported by a raw, straightforward demeanor. He displays some of these smooth and bullish abilities on "Extradite," a jazz-influenced track from his new album, Shadow of Doubt, on which Gibbs trades bars with Philly MC Black Thought (Tariq Trotter), the prolific lyricist and founding member of The Roots, rifling through their respective street-life experiences.

"Extradite" is built on a slice of pianist Bob James' fusion opus "Nautilus," one of the most popular and sampled songs in rap history. Repurposing a well-worn piece of music is a risky proposition, but producer Mikhail gives it new life, warping familiar sounds (alto flute, keyboards, vibes) into a framework that shifts in waves — moving from a strobing synth pattern, to an isolated percussion solo with riffing chimes to a single, mashing chord progression. At times, the sounds seem like light beams surging through a tunnel.

/ Courtesy of the artist
Courtesy of the artist

Gibbs' first-person lyrical focuses in on the negative effects of a broken class structure — specifically, how they relate to the down-on-his-luck dealer he's writing as. He's making closed-hand drug transactions, pursuing capitalist ideals in a struggling 'hood ecosystem: "Options was that minimum wage, live in a cage/ Building a prison every day, man they cultivating these slaves," he raps, diagramming the alternatives that lead to his choices. On the other hand, Black Thought, whose verses have been crushing social inequity for decades, paints the world in broader strokes. His raps are tightly yoked by internal rhyme schemes ("We cheat death with each breath/ The only one who make it last forever is Keith Sweat/ You ever see a body lying dead it the streets yet, then eat breakfast/ Swallow forced beliefs like police justice"), spelling out the anguish of an entire community. He is incisive, yet concise.

Basically, they're documenting the devil's various influences on urban communities. "If the devil die today I'ma treat it like it's a holiday," Gibbs shouts declaratively in the hook. He and Trotter are addressing a spiritual manifestation of evil, any force that perpetuates cycles of destruction in the 'hood. They long for the opportunity to halt this fruitless continuum and dance on the devil's grave.

Shadow of a Doubt is out now on ESGN Records.

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Sheldon Pearce
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
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