By Max Miller
Freddie Gibbs’ $oul $old $eparately is a strange one. It seems to have been met with the coveted combination of good press and cultural recognition. I like it, don’t get me wrong. But I am hesitant to praise it as much as others.
You will like this album if you like Freddie Gibbs. This may sound obvious, but the most defining feature of this album is its “Freddie Gibbs”-ness. On this new album, he raps about cocaine over old soulful beats, as he always has.
Gibbs has never reinvented the wheel — nor does he have to. For the most part, throughout his catalog, Gibbs has stuck to his strengths, which are so strong that they alone make an album entertaining. Gibbs is endlessly charismatic and confident. He operates like an elder statesman, with an ease reminiscent of a veteran quarterback in the pocket surveying his options and decisively throwing a beautiful back shoulder pass to a tightly covered receiver. Gibbs raps like he’s seen shit. This seemingly seasoned bravado ropes the listener in; at his best, however, Gibbs’ music feels less like bragaddocio and more like a journal of secrets he has let you in on. A lot of Gibbs’ music comes off as a simple snapshot of the Gary, Indiana rapper’s daily life. Songs often represent moments of grandeur, juxtaposed with a troubled, poverty-filled past.
And thus, $oul $old $eparately is just… a Freddie Gibbs album. It does everything Freddie Gibbs albums normally do. So it’s good, yes. But it's not exciting.
The album lacks some identity. Gibbs was able to rely on collaboration to create cohesion on his last three projects (Fetti with Curren$y and The Alchemist, Bandana with Madlib, and Alfredo with The Alchemist). On this album he does not get that luxury; He is on his own for the first time since 2018. There are a few unclear throughlines in the album, the strangest being a frequent robocall that thanks the listener for their stay at the “Triple S Hotel, Resort and Casino.” There is no mention of this concept outside of this disembodied voice, making its appearance a consistently strange non sequitur. It doesn’t jump out on first listen, but when analyzing the album, its inclusion is a bit confusing.
There is another throughline that quite easily gives the album its worst moments. On several song outros, Gibbs features staged voicemails he has received from his celebrity friends. The voicemail featured on “Space Rabbit” is breathtakingly bad, causing the listener to ask, “Why in the hell is the self-proclaimed ‘RoastMaster General’ Jeff Ross on a Freddie Gibbs album?” Sure, I was a fan of Ross in middle school, and I still think he’s good for a few cheap laughs every once in a while. But subjecting your audience to 45 seconds of mediocre Jeff Ross roasts over a warped old school-inspired beat is criminal. The pacing is all off — it’s not even close to Ross’ element. The next voicemail is not much better; everyone’s favorite idiot Joe Rogan makes an appearance, telling Gibbs that he has mushrooms, DMT, Kevlar underwear, and extra bullets before letting out a painfully hearty, “LETS FUCKING GO!” Ignoring all of the reasons that Joe Rogan is problematic and also generally a dumbass, the interlude is incredibly eye-roll-inducing.
This is not to say that there aren’t highlights on the album. The first two tracks, “Couldn’t Be Done” and “Blackest in the Room,” are some of the strongest Gibbs has produced in recent memory. There are multiple instances where transitions between songs are so unbelievably smooth that I only noticed them on my tenth or eleventh listen. Particularly, the transition between “Too Much” and “Lobster Omelette” is absolutely nasty, utilizing tempo changes to create an impressively subtle sonic shift.
Gibbs still does what he is good at. He is still lyrically clever and charismatic. He still raps about cocaine. But he doesn’t show any progress from his last album. My biggest issue with this project is it could be from any era of Freddie Gibbs’ discography. You could tell me this album released in 2015 and I would believe you without hesitation. If this was the first Gibbs effort I had ever listened to, I would love it, but I’m getting a little bit tired of the schtick.