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Concert review: Freddie Gibbs flexes in Columbus, continues to prove rap dominance

Rapper Freddie Gibbs emerged from the shadows stage left at The Basement just before 10:30 p.m. The stage was pitch black, but cell phones and lighters lit by the audience outlined Gibbs’ tall, lean frame. The Gary, Indiana, rapper eventually gravitated toward the middle of the stage, cloaked in his label ESGN’s apparel. Following frantic chants of his stage name, Gibbs removed his hoodie, showcasing a black-out Buckeyes Braxton Miller jersey.

The wardrobe was symbolic for many reasons. The first and most obvious reason correlates with the rapper’s approach toward music. Gibbs treats the art of rapping like a sport, making him an athlete of sorts. His choice of Miller’s No. 1 jersey, whether intentional or not, is fitting, as it’s representative one of the Scarlet and Gray’s most multi-faceted contributors in program history.

Just like Miller’s on-field excellence, Gibbs’ rapping abilities are indefinable and unprecedented. He graced the string-heavy soundscapes of Madlib on “Piñata” a couple years back, made Lil Wayne and Drake afterthoughts after freestyling over the beats to “Believe Me” and “0 to 100” on one of Tim Westwood’s crib sessions and has projects inspired by the regional influences and dialects of Outkast in the South and Lauryn Hill on the East Coast.

So when Gibbs ultimately revealed his face on Friday night at The Basement, the energy flowing throughout the venue had the vibe of a hometown show. Two nights prior, Gibbs put on a show in Chicago, by far the closest stop on his “Shadow of a Doubt” tour to his hometown of Gary. But, along with Detroit, Columbus was one of the three nearest to where the rapper grew up, all of which occurred over the past three consecutive days.

Regardless, the venue was intimate enough of a space to cultivate the hometown vibe and relationship with an already-charged crowd. Gibbs stormed out of the gate with “Rearview,” the intro track to his latest LP and title for the tour. From that point on, I settled upon three conclusions from his intimate performance Friday night: he’s regionless, he’s genreless and he might just be the best rapper in the world.

He’s regionless

Don’t get it twisted: Gibbs is constantly repping his hometown of Gary. But with songs like “Lakers” and “Knicks” off of his 2014 collaborative effort with Madlid — which act as odes to temporary homes for Gibbs — he has an aura about him that allows him to immediately and personally connect with audiences wherever he tours.

During his stop in Columbus, it was his performance of “Harold’s,” another cut off of Piñata, that really allowed The Basement crowd to bond with Gibbs. Over the nostalgic, soulful beat, Gibbs shares stories surrounding Harold’s, the rapper’s favorite fried chicken stop back home. Before the live performance of the track, he also shared a more personal, telling account of his hometown. Having his ESGN family on the stage added to the backyard appeal, as well.

With the rapid population decline in Gary during the 21st century, Gibbs has many harrowing stories to share. His accounts on Harold’s, however, depict how he can always enjoy a savory meal after surviving another day in his streets. Columbus may be 300 miles away from Gary, but the rapper truly brought the environment and rough exterior of his hometown with performances like “Harold’s” and “Bout It, Bout It,” respectively.

The fact that Gibbs can rap on these two dualistic beats (mentioned above) about similar subjects is just a small sample and testament to his ability to navigate multiple subgenres in rap.

He’s genreless

It can sometimes be hard to get a read on why certain music enthusiasts are drawn to an artist like Freddie Gibbs. Judging by how the crowd reacted to the multiple projects he spanned over his 15-song set, there were pockets in the audience that were clearly Gibbs fans because of a specific wide-ranging project of his.

Judging by the waves of frantic hands, fans were out in droves to watch the rapper perform cuts from “Piñata” and “Shadow of a Doubt,” which are two of his most recent releases. But, in addition to the aforementioned projects, Gibbs had some devoted longtime followers in the audience with there being frequent chants at Gibbs to perform tracks from 2012’s “Baby Face Killah” and “Cold Day In Hell.”

“Kush Cloud,” a cut off of the former of the two, supplied the frank stoner edge that is laced within most of Gibbs’ raps. “Cold Day In Hell” encapsulates the hard-edge demeanor that put Gibbs on in the first place, while the three-song “Pinata” portion toward the middle of the show provided the jazz vibes that many seemed excited to experience in person on Friday.

However, it might have been when Gibbs had no beat backing at all when he truly flexed his prowess as a top emcee.

He might just be the best rapper in the world

My first memory of Gibbs was a video that surfaced online from 2012 of him rapping “Rob Me A N—-“ acapella in Paris. From that point on, I knew he was gifted from birth with the ability to spit like no rapper has ever before.

Gibbs’ ability to lay down rhymes rapid fire without many — or sometimes any — breaths is one of his many talents as a rapper. In Columbus on Friday night, the rapper treated The Basement with the same experience that he gave fans overseas a few years prior: an a cappella showcase that caught the attention of a surplus of Snapchat accounts. “Rob Me” was the most charged performance Gibbs gave without any beat to aid him, but his acapella rendition of “Thuggin’” entranced the crowd as well.

After closing out the concert with one encore performance, Gibbs disappeared into the shadows that he emerged from an hour prior. He took the time to shake hands with fans before exiting stage left, but he had a look in his eyes the whole time like he was staring into the future.

Gibbs has made it known before that he knows he is one of the most versatile emcees in rap today and is very knowledgeable of his own talents. It’s difficult to pinpoint what direction he will take his music next, but he will without a doubt approach it with the same dexterity and adaptability that Miller displayed at the ‘Shoe during his career at Ohio State.

It’s just a shame OSU didn’t pick up Gibbs.

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