Courtesy of Empire Distribution.
Courtesy of Empire Distribution.

Hip hop artist Freddie Gibbs’ third studio album, “Shadow of a Doubt” is a defiant synthesis of trap music and gangster rap which come together to weave a brilliant sonic tapestry. This album has everything that makes a strong hip hop album: brilliant lyricism, venomous flow and beautifully crafted beats. While this album doesn’t necessarily surpass the genius of its predecessor, “Pinata,” it is definitely a worthy follow up.

This album is fairly complex for a hip hop album, especially in the way it navigates genre. While “Shadow of a Doubt” uses a trap-influenced soundscape, there are strong elements of gangsta rap all over the album. The first track off the album, “Rearview,” is actually a  homage to Tupac’s musical legacy. The title evokes one of his most incisive raps, “Starin’ Through the Rearview” and the refrain for the song is actually culled from another track by Tupac, “All Eyez on Me.” He repeats the line, “So many playa hatin’ niggas trying to sound like us,” throughout the song,crafting a socially conscious rap that evokes Tupac’s self-consciousness. This song has heavy bassline and sped up hi hats, which is typical of trap music, but there are various synth elements that give the song an introspective atmosphere.

Moreover, Gibbs explores using his vocals to sing the hooks on a number of tracks, which is something he did not do on his previous work. In “Pinata,” all of the hooks were supplied by legendary producer Madlib’s use of sampling. However, the sampling on this album is at a minimum, therefore requiring the hooks to be sung or rapped by Gibbs himself. In a few tracks such as “Basketball Wives” he actually uses autotune, marking a style he has never played with before.

The lead single off the album, “F****in’ Up the Count,” is definitely the standout track off this album. The track begins with a piano melody and a lo-fi conversation between two children about money and selling. The conversation is riddled with profanities in a way that’s incredibly disturbing coming from such discernibly young kids. The piano melody picks up a fast paced bassline and Gibbs begins flowing over the heavy trap beat. Lyrically, the song explores the centrality of violence to the quest for money in the ghetto life. He raps, “money on my mind / don’t do the crime unless it pay nigga,” which shows the kind of risk involved with a trap lifestyle.

While this album is not as strong as his previous collaborative album Madlib, it still delivers on what we expect from Gibbs’ versatility as an artist. Moreover, crafting a follow up to a near perfect album is always a difficult feat for any artist, and this album is just as vibrant and lyrically brilliant. It would be ridiculous to expect an album as well produced as “Pinata” given he is not working with Madlib on this album.

Nonetheless, “Shadow of a Doubt” is an excellent album, and in my eyes cements Gibbs’ reputation as one of the best rappers in the industry. This album is incredibly enjoyable, and for fans of both contemporary and classic rap, there are plenty of things to enjoy here.

Rating: 4 stars