Shadow of a Doubt by Freddie Gibbs (2015)

It’s fair to say that unless you follow hip-hop music closely, you may never have heard of  gangsta-rapper Freddie Gibbs. That was until last year’s excellent collaboration album with producer Madlib. The brilliance of that effort Piñata – surprised many, including the devoted fans of both artists. Madlib‘s soulful, jazz-inspired, psychedelic-tinged beats created the perfect platform for Gibbs‘ thuggish rhymes and monotone-yet-passionate delivery. Gibbs also revealed the more conscious side of his lyrical persona on ‘Piñata’, something that had been largely absent from his earlier material.

Gibbs was inspired to try his hand at rapping in the mid-2000’s while dealing drugs out of a recording studio in his hometown of Gary, Indiana. After putting together some demos he landed a deal with Interscope in 2006, but was soon dropped after a change of management. Gibbs decided to take some time out, returning with a collection of mixtapes in 2009 which saw him earn him praise from critics, leading to a series of releases on various labels.

Shadow of a Doubt is his third full-length album and it sees Gibbs reverting back into full gangsta mode. The failed attempt on his life in Brooklyn after a show last November likely played a major role in influencing his approach this time around. “They tried to kill Tupac. They tried to kill me. But I’m still living“, he was quoted as saying immediately after the incident.

A host of top producers including Mike Dean, Boi-1da, and Frank Dukes have been brought in to provide beats for the album, allowing Gibbs‘signature 90’s Tupac-meets-Scarface style a platform to develop a more modern tone. In the past Gibbs has often sounded quite flat, despite being a pretty solid MC. However, in the aftermath of Piñata, he has made efforts to evolve and diversify his style, though it doesn’t result in positive outcomes.

The album opens with a solid run of tracks, the highlight being “Extradite” featuring a show stealing appearance by Black Thought of The Roots. Its jazz-influenced beat, produced by Mikhail, is the closest Shadow of a Doubt comes to re-creating anything heard on Piñata. Another highlight is the single “Fuckin’ Up the Count”, one of many drug themed tracks, featuring a delicate loop with a tense beat produced by Boi-1da and Frank Dukes.

The flow of Shadow of a Doubt is somewhat disrupted during its mid-way point, due to a collection of trap-rap and R&B-inspired tracks which propel Gibbs into territory less than complimentary to the limited trappings of his rapping style. The album manages to redeem itself with a solid final few tracks; including Gibbs revelaing his softer side on the subtle “Insecurities” produced by Frank Dukes.

Most follow-ups to an album as critically lauded as Piñata are going to risk feeling like a step away from what made that album so celebrated. While Shadow of a Doubt is no match for its predecessor, it is certainly a step forward when compared to Gibbs‘ earlier material. Remove the middle third of the album and you’re left with  pretty good 40-minute gangsta-rap album. However, as it stands, the 20-minutes of poor music ultimately weigh the album down as a full body of work.

Top Tracks: Fuckin’ Up the Count; Extradite; Insecurities

Length: 58:36

Released: 20 November 2015

Label: Empire

Rating: 6.5/10

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