Not even a year removed from joining forces with 808 doyen Madlib to create one of 2014’s best collaborative efforts, Piñata, rapper Freddie Gibbs has found time to drop two EPs and his most recent full length effort, Shadow of Doubt. One of the more underrated and tireless lyricists on the circuit today, the Gary, Indiana native son has done nothing but further amalgamate his legacy as rap’s most unheralded hero.
Shadow of Doubt is a far cry from the dynamic duet that was Piñata, with Gibbs exchanging Madlib’s singular break beats and samples for multi-producer packaging, spanning the hip-hop spectrum. In turn, the variety allows Gibbs to flex his lyrical musings in an array of fashions – some brimming with machismo (“Forever and a Day”), salty dog syndrome (“Freddie Gordy”), and a possibly self-narrating jilted lover opining over past oblivion (“Careless”). The frenetic emotional energy asserts Gibbs’ ability to separate Shadow of Doubt from any past bodies of work, further cementing the underestimated prowess of his flow.
Gibbs has for some time now been considered one of the more hawkish of his rap compatriots – at times more brute lyrical force than emotional finesse - with such a precedent being torn down by one of Shadow of Doubt’s most powerful tracks, “Insecurities.” Disarming self-awareness laced with an almost regretful tone – “I was ready for whatever, man / I remember I was selling things / I let it go” - allows for Gibbs to present an offertory that is almost unbecoming, had it not been masterfully paced by Gibbs’ classic cadence.
Another highlight of Shadow of Doubt is the Gibbs’ choice of collaborators. He calls upon his rap contemporaries; take “10 Times,” a more modern approach to hip-hop, ranging from the hazy mediations from Gucci to flipping the of the script to Bay Area legend E-40, who offers one of the more humorous non-Gibb verses on Shadow of Doubt: “Lifestyle, ribbit, ribbit / That’s what I’m going to use when I stick it / She bad, she fat / She gon’ get a ticket / Thicker than a buttermilk biscuit…”
Laughable lyricism aside, Gibbs’ choice to feature grizzled veterans of the game allow not only for the guest MCs to shine, but help heighten Gibbs’ tonal dexterity. “Extradite,” perhaps the album’s strongest feature track, presents Gibbs commenting on the peculiar state of rap and hip-hop, at times jeering at his younger peers’ inability to remain relevant as long as someone of his own caliber. The feature verse, deftly performed by Black Thought of The Roots fame, is the album’s most politically fused, with commentary on recent race tensions and the like, all being juxtaposed by a smooth jazz beat.
Shadow of Doubt is a record that is unlikely to shift cultural dialogue or work its way into the zeitgeist, but that has never been Gibbs’ intentions. Shadow of Doubt acts simply, a rap manifesto of MC’s continual challenges to the rap game, with little to no pushback. If rap has become more emotionally deft, then it has abandoned one of its core principals – lyrical thought to shift the perspective of those who will listen. Modern rap can at times be vapid and sensitive, but not for Gibbs. Shadow of Doubt is an assertion that Gibbs is the only true aggressor who remains in the game.