"ESGN" fails to deliver the inspiration and substance Gibbs has previously shown, but it does display his exceptional delivery, cadence and rhyme skills.
“Shout out to Gangsta Gibbs, he the next to blow!” That was Young Jeezy’s proclamation upon signing Gary, Indiana’s prodigal G back in 2011. And that’s the audio clip playing incessantly in the background of Lil Sodi’s introductory words on ESGN, Freddie Gibbs’ first full-length project post-CTE. If anything, the voice of Gibbs’ former co-sign is an appropriate backdrop for ESGN, an album that serves as a re-declaration of independence for both himself and his newly founded label of the same name.
Although he describes this project as the “definitive Freddie Gibbs album,” ESGN falls right in line with previous releases like Str8 Killa and BFK, both lyrically and musically. On the unassisted street anthem, “Came Up,” Gangsta Gibbs jumps right in on his haters and follows the anti-industry tone persistent throughout his career, with the following, “Nothin but hollow tips for my enemies, like, yeah / Fuck you pussy boys in this industry, like, yeah / Fuck yo records, I’m knee deep in the streets…”
Freddie Gibbs battles with the music industry are well documented. After first being signed to Interscope in 2006, and his subsequent dismissal the following year, Gibbs has been relentless in his output and dedication to keeping real Gangsta Rap alive. On ESGN, his substance remains uncompromised, as he presents raw street tales and cocaine raps on records like “I Seen A Man Die” and “Have You Seen Her.”
Production wise, ESGN is fairly seamless, with high points coming on “Eastside Moonwalker,” “F.A.M.E.,” “The Color Purple,” and “9mm.” Gibbs’ innate ability to blend regional styles and musical influences shines throughout the album. Whether he’s resurrecting KRS-One’s “9mm Goes Bang,” or reviving that West Coast gangsta flow with Daz Dillinger and Spice 1, Freddie Gibbs is Hip Hop elemental.
However, if this project falls flat anywhere, it’s the lack of inspiration and powerful substance that has drawn Freddie the Tupac comparisons. ESGN doesn’t have a “National Anthem” or a “Thug Psalms,” which consequently makes the entire LP merely a showcase of Freddie Gibbs’ exceptional delivery, versatile cadence, and elite rhyme skills. While he’s extremely consistent with his flow, and does provide fans heavy doses of Gangsta Rap bangers, he has yet to produce a cohesive, full-length project that would measure up to the classics he was raised on.
Ultimately, ESGN may not be a cultural event. It doesn’t introduce a new sound, nor does it feature many moments we haven’t heard before. Yet what makes this album important are all the reasons Hip Hop needs Freddie Gibbs. On any one album, he can give you pieces of Tupac, UGK, Three 6 Mafia, and blend them into a harmony that would make Bone Thugs-n-Harmony proud. And on that point, ESGN is a massive success.