By: Stacy-Ann Ellis
Rapper Freddie Gibbs has made a pretty penny flipping street sales into big business.
Freddie Gibbs doesn’t like seeds in his weed. Even more importantly, Gibbs’ right hand man, Diego, doesn’t like seeds in his weed. A cozy trailer parked behind Bonnaroo’s The Other Tent has become Gibbs’ backstage birthday pre-game spot. Plastic cups, ice bags, wine, champagne, an assortment of juices, sodas and energy drinks, and a half full bottle of Patron (the rapper will take the rest to the face during his debut performance an hour later) crowd the countertop. Gibbs is coolly seated on top of the cooler housing all the cold beers and water. His manager, Pun, is leaning back in a cushioned recliner playing DJ with his iPad, rattling the room. Madlib—the producer, DJ and Piñata collaborator who linked with Gibbs thanks to mutual friends, good marijuana and a musical chemistry that just clicks—is posted up against the wall, passing an already lit blunt to another one of Freddie’s L.A. homies. And a stressed out Diego is interrupting Freddie’s VIBE interview to point out all the seeds in a batch of weed they copped.
“Aye, shut the f**k up, I’m doing a motherf**king interview, dog!,” Freddie jokingly snaps at his childhood friend, hardly bothered. “Can you just roll the weed? I know it got seeds but don’t complain right now.” Instead of fussing over the problem, he’s looking at a solution he can easily provide. “Don’t nobody grow no weed like us, n***a. I’m about to put you onto that Freddie Kane strain.” ESGN Records’ head honcho is referring to one of his moneymakers besides his gift of gab. Gibbs made a name for himself spitting firsthand street narratives of dope sales, robbery and violence, but the budding businessman doesn’t intend on gangster rap being the end-all be-all of his legacy.
“I grew up a drug dealer. So now I can deal drugs legally,” the Gary, Ind. native says of going the legit route with his strain of indica weed. Originally, Gibbs partnered with Northern Cali’s Loompa Farms to grow his product, but business is expanding fast. “We’re about to open up a new dispensary. And I’m paying taxes on it. In 2012, the IRS tried to get at me and take a n***a to jail. But f**k them. Now I got sh** in order.”
Those who’ve already sampled the green can vouch for its potency. One Nugs.com toker wrote that Freddie Kane OG could either “[put] your day on smooth cruise control” or “result in skipping a day of the week” depending on how much is consumed. Although Gibbs hasn’t specified just how many customers are lining up at the door, his biggest co-sign is telling of his business’ success. Gibbs insists that when herbal enthusiast (and his number one favorite rapper of all time) Snoop Dogg tried the strain, he was seeing double. “If I impressed Snoop, f**k everybody else,” Gibbs says with a satisfied shrug. “Snoop told me I got good weed and that n***a told me I could rap. I don’t give a f**k about what another n***a says.”
The same nonchalant attitude he exhibits towards his seedy weed spills over to his way of banking off a finicky music industry. Eyeing a future as an A&R or major music exec a la L.A. Reid and Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, he knows how to pimp the system in more ways than one. First of all, the music streaming giants, namely Spotify, Pandora, TIDAL and SoundCloud, that have a bad rap for gypping artists are his friends, not his foes. There’s no one he likes over the other. When we question whether or not he makes substantial funds from Spotify & Co., he bursts into laughter. “F**k you mean? Gangsta Gibbs gets a check,” he says. “These motherf**kers don’t want you to know you get money off of this.”
In an era where record sales are dwindling and performances are primary streams of revenue, Gibbs has found a cozy spot in the festival circuit and touring for his niche audience. “These n***as’ whole careers are predicated on if they can make a radio record or not,” he says of mainstream rappers. “I don’t gotta be the n***a at the tippy top. I’m gonna get money like this for the next 20 years. I’ll be at these festivals and Europe and American tours for the next 20 years of my life.”
After making self-investment his top priority, the new dad—his fiancée Erica Dickerson (formerly of Fuse’s scripted series, The Hustle) recently gave birth to Irie Jane—will always be able to spoil his daughter the way he wants. Even more so than building a loyal fan base from the ground up over the past seven years, Gibbs takes pride in doing it all independently with no machine behind him. “I did that all on my own, so when my check comes back… [It’s mine],” he says. “We’re getting money. I always got a check. My daughter always has a check because I did that sh** myself. I’m gonna make money off this sh** I made with [Madlib] for the rest of my life. A millionaire off one record.”
Here, the booming entrepreneur details his plans for longevity, the root of his business acumen, how he can breathe new life into dying record labels and why Freddie Gibbs is doing much better than the world thinks he is. —Stacy-Ann Ellis
VIBE: Your Freddie Kane OG supply is taking off during a pivotal time for marijuana in America. Any words of advice for people trying to come up in the legal weed business?
Freddie Gibbs: Hell nah, because I want to get all the money. It’s just like the dope game, try to move in on me and you gotta get up. I ain’t telling you n***as how to do nothing. I’m gonna keep bringing the n***a fish. You bring a n***a fish, he’s gonna eat good. I’m gonna keep letting you n***as eat good, but I’m never gonna take you to the motherf**king water and show you how to fish yourself. My granddaddy taught me that. Never show another n***a where you fish. I’ll never show another n***a my fishing hole because he’s going to try to get my fish.
Can’t be too mad at you for that. Have you tested Freddie Kane on other rappers?
I just tested it with the number one rapper of all time, Snoop Doggy Dog. He smoked that Freddie Kane and he said I thought Freddie Kane was another n***a. Shout out to Snoop. He’s the Godfather. The Doggfather. Much love always and respect. Once Snoop Dogg gave me the plug, the stamp, it’s all love.
Getting a thumbs up from Uncle Snoop is huge.
I got much love for Snoop. He brought me on GGN and it was an honor and a pleasure. I grew up on that sh**, man. I was a little n***a, maybe second or third grade, I don’t know, bumping that “Lodi Dodi.” I used to be on some gangsta sh** walking to school with that. And that Chronic.
Were you rocking with N.W.A., too? Because Straight Outta Compton is about to come out.
I grew up on N.W.A, Geto Boys. My dad was listening to that. My mom had me at a young age, like 20, and she was the oldest child. All her brothers were seven and 10, so I was like a younger brother more so than the oldest child. I was the younger brother to all my uncles, so they were going through their childhood and their teenage years and I was right there. Everything that they were loving, I was loving. I wanted to be a gangsta from birth, not because of the music but moreso what I was seeing. What my uncles were doing. I was just fascinated with the street lifestyle from a young age. Of course I wanted to do other sh**. I wanted to be in the NBA. I wanted to be in the NFL. I went to college to play sports, but I got kicked out because that street sh** is just always a part of me. Looking back in hindsight, I used to go through a period in my life where I used to regret it. I used to be mad at myself for not doing the right thing, but I don’t feel that way anymore.
Because you still became successful.
Yeah, I became successful and because all of that. If it wasn’t for that, I wouldn’t be where I’m at right now. When I got over that and feeling bad about all of that sh**, I became a new me.
And you can’t dwell on ill thoughts.
If you’ve seen the sh** that I’ve seen, it’s a lot of sh** to dwell on. F**k it though, I’m here. You’re interviewing me. I’m an interesting ass n***a.
True. Switching gears, given all that’s going on in society right now, what would your State of the World address be right now?
You know what, I could say a lot of my thoughts about society right now, but it might f**k me up with my money. There’s a lot that I want to say about sh** but I can’t say it because I don’t want to f**k up my paper. I think a lot of motherf**kers are going to hell in a hand basket with gasoline drawls on their ass. But I ain’t gonna call them out. It is what it is. If you turn the mic off, I’ll tell you exactly what I’m talking about. The world is some bullsh**. They’re gonna try to fool you with money. They’re gonna try to f**k you up with religion. They use religion to f**k your whole world up. They’ll use religion to have you give you all your money and have you doing some sh** that you don’t even want to do. It ain’t just Christianity, it ain’t just Islam. It’s all that religion stuff. I believe in God. I’m not no atheist. I believe in God all day, from all types and kinds of different perspectives. I read the Quran word for word, front to back. I read the Bible like twice. I like to read.
What’s one of the latest books you’ve read?
Scarface’s book. That’s one of the best books I’ve ever read. And that’s my homie too. So as I’m reading the book, I’m calling him. He had to tell me like, man, just finish the book. So when I got done, I called him and we were on the phone for like an hour. It’s a lot of layers to Scarface. That’s probably why he’s one of my favorite artists. When you peel all those layers back you really get Brad [Jordan]. He’s a close friend of mine, so to be able to get that knowledge from him is priceless and helped me get through the last five years of my life and career.
What’s the best piece of advice he’s given you?
To just always be my own boss. You see the trials and tribulations of what he went through with his career and when you read the book, you see the timelines during the course of the book, when he was happy and the times when he was sad. It seems he was happiest when he got that Dej Jam job. But then that peaked and went down when they wouldn’t really sign nothing that he brought. Then Ludacris brought him back up and that made him happy. You can tell his emotions from the book. When I write my book, y’all ain’t ready. The sh** that [Scarface] was talking about with crack houses and bleeding n***as blocks out and moving them. I was listening to his sh** as I was doing it. There’s probably another n***a out there listening to my sh** as they’re doing this sh**. When Jeezy came out, he was telling it to a T. The stove, bricks, these are the measurements. He was breaking it down. That’s what made Jeezy so special. He was giving you a clear cut vision of the kitchen and that dope boy lifestyle. Then ‘Face talked about it too. He was talking about it in the early ’90s. The way Jeezy did it, he made it like… damn. And then Ross compounded upon that and so on. From that you got a whole genre of trapping rap. Me and dude ain’t on the same page but I definitely can respect that.
You mention Jeezy, who’s well-established and widely known in the music game. What are your thoughts when people refer to you as underrated?
I like it because when you’re underrated you always got room to grow. If I’m overrated then I can fall down, but when I’m underrated then I always have room to grow. [Pun: He makes more money than n***as that’s overrated though.]
A n***a can have a hit on the radio and he doesn’t make as much money as me. Name a person with a song on the radio and we can run the bank accounts. We can run the checks. I guarantee I get more for a show than most of them n***as on the radio.
And festivals like Bonnaroo are major. It means middle America knows and loves you.
Because it’s an organic growth. It was never fake. Ain’t no label come behind me with no $100,000 behind a single and put it to the radio. Every place that I’ve gotten in my career, I’ve gotten on my own from real growth. I didn’t go pay DJs for radio. I was like, I’m just going to grow a fan base. I think everything that happened for me happened organically. That’s why I say I’ll last longer than the next n***a. I’ll be around longer than them because I have classics under my belt thanks to [Madlib].
It sounds like you know exactly what you’re doing.
These record labels need to hire me. There are a couple big record labels that want to hire me as an A&R. I’m about to do that. That’s going to be the transition of my career. I mean, come on, man, I kept Freddie Gibbs relevant for the last seven years with no label. So imagine if I apply those tactics to another artist with a label’s money? I can do that. I kept Freddie Gibbs relevant with dope money. My own money. I ain’t never take a check from a label. I ain’t never take a dollar from Young Jeezy, contrary to popular belief and contrary to what that n***a said on Hot 97. I never took a dollar from him. That’s our discrepancy. But back to that label head sh**, that’s definitely in the works right now. I definitely have tactics that a label doesn’t have. I took a meeting with a couple labels and they were asking me questions. They don’t know what the f**k to do. Major labels are about to be obsolete. They hire young Gibbs in there and they can last another 20 years. They put me in the office and they can do it. But they gotta pay, because we’ve been doing it on an independent level so smoothly. Now the labels are asking the successful artists questions.
If I’m overrated then I can fall down, but when I’m underrated then I always have room to grow.
So with your business acumen being what it is, what would you tell Lil Wayne with the Cash Money situation he’s going through?
Sign with ESGN, let’s make this a partnership. Tell him YMESGN. [Laughs] You know what, Lil Wayne is still one of the best rappers of all time. I definitely want to do a record with that man. I definitely respect his pen game and respect his records. I’m not in on their whole business shit, I don’t know how that shit is and how it goes.
What are your thoughts on TIDAL and its battle between the rest of the streaming world?
We getting checks off that streaming.
That’s crazy, because several artists have said they don’t make much money from Spotify.
<So all of them are giving you checks? And do you prefer any over the other?
I don’t discriminate. I got all them apps on my phone. SoundCloud, y’all give a n***a a check now. SoundCloud just monetized. These n***s don’t know. They let the media perpetuate some sh**, ‘Oh, you don’t get money off of this.’ They don’t want you to get your money. They want you to be stupid so they can go get your money. F**k that. I sold dope. You think I’m gonna let a n***a get my money for me? I was in all their faces.
Is it because you’re independent?
Yup. Shout out to the labels. 360 deal killers. We don’t get 360s. Freddie Gibbs doesn’t do record deals with a label. We’re gonna do a partnership if we do some sh**. We’re gonna be partners. You’re gonna have to make me L.A. Reid.
That’s the new way?
That’s my way. That’s the only way. [Pun: If a n***a isn’t independent, he’s lazy.]
He’s lazy, scared to get out there and scared to use his own motherf**king money. If you ain’t gonna use your own money, how are you gonna get another guy to use their money? Go to radio with your own money. Do this sh** with your own money. Quit depending on a n***a. Quit being a b*tch.
Photo Credit: VIBE/Stacy-Ann Ellis