If gangsta rap is dead, Freddie Gibbs is the closest thing to its saviour. With You Only Live 2wice, Gibbs has once again proven himself to be possibly both the realest and one of the most introspective rappers out there. His past few years have been particularly fruitful; 2014’s Piñata collaboration with Madlib went down as both the year’s and one of all time’s strongest rap releases, while 2015’s Shadow of a Doubt proved that the Indiana MC could stand on his own two feet with his sophomore solo effort. But it’s the shadow of sexual abuse charges and a subsequent acquittal that define his third project – You Only Live 2wice bears witness to the fact that Gibbs has still got it.
Opener 20 Karat Jesus begins with that quintessential style of beat reminiscent of Shadow of a Doubt, a moody and lush soundscape tied together with some tight trap drums. Halfway through, everything changes up, switching out the beat for a far more soulful instrumental – yet Gibbs remains on point, showcasing both his lyrical and emotional range. Freddie’s staying power is by far his ability to deliver introspective verses but just as easily commit to his gritty street persona.
For Alexys, Gibbs drops in on a track with two of the biggest crossover producers in the game – BADBADNOTGOOD and Kaytranada, united again on production duties for the first time since 2016’s Lavender. Once again, the off kilter jazz fusion of BADBADNOTGOOD and Kaytranada’s bouncy hip hop come together for an endlessly satisfying result. Freddie’s bars are frantic, constantly desperate, yet at the same time hard hitting and intense. Especially with the jazzier production on tracks like Alexys and Andrea, Gibbs knows where his strengths lie and capitalises on them.
The more full and orchestral trap production on cuts like Crushed Glass and Dear Maria really showcase Gibbs’ performance, matching the levels of emotion that he consistently manages to put out. It’s pained, it’s raw, and incredibly introspective. Freddie’s recollections upon family, crime, and drug abuse are confronting, but it’s his reflections upon his recent incarceration on tracks like Homesick that really grip listeners. Few artists have the sort of voice that Freddie does – his versatility is one of You Only Live 2wice’s greatest assets, bringing areas that might lack cohesion together.
Even when he isn’t waxing lyrical, Freddie’s grips on hooks and songwriting combine with his raw energy to produce some truly satisfying moments. Gibbs is the sole artist on this project, no features, but for an album as introspective and explorative as this, that’s exactly what it needs. Moments like the hooks on Alexys or Andrea are instantly captivating, assisted by equally impressive production. Even tracks that sound more like Shadow of a Doubt off cuts like Amnesia or Phone Lit retain the dichotomy between gangsta swagger and moody cloudiness that defines Gibbs’ solo sound.
You Only Live 2wice may not step up from Shadow of a Doubt or impress as much as Piñata, but for an eight track project clocking in at just half an hour, it’s concise and hard hitting. Despite recent setbacks and legal troubles, Gibbs remains one of the more interesting and innovative MCs out there in modern hip hop. When gangsta rap and hardcore hip hop seem to be fading away, Freddie continues to deliver solid project after solid project. You Only Live 2wice is no exception.