In an age of music streaming in which fans tend to grow impatient rather quickly for new material from their favourite artists, having to abruptly put one’s music career on hold for any reason is not ideal, so when Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs was arrested in France on suspicion of rape in June of last year, then extradited to Austria, not only was his reputation at stake, but so too was his career. Even after being found not guilty in September, a great deal of damage had already been done following the attention these charges had received from music publications, some of whom sensationalised the story slightly, not to mention the fact that Gibbs was part-way through a European tour when he was apprehended. With such an unexpected and unfortunate spanner thrown in the works, Gibbs seemingly set his sights on making up for lost time, hence the short period of time between the dropping of the charges against him and the release of his latest studio album, You Only Live 2wice. This being said, this new album certainly shows signs of being rushed. This is evident even before hitting play, with only eight songs in the tracklisting that spread across half an hour’s worth of material, a far cry from the usual duration of a Freddie Gibbs album, which, up until now, have always been in excess of a full hour. As for the material on the record, there most definitely seems to be some loose ends when it comes to the production and Gibbs’ performances, but that’s not to say that You Only Live 2wice lacks any compelling moments. Indeed, on his new studio effort, Gibbs tackles numerous issues regarding his personal life, including his recent run-in with the law, more directly and with more earnestness than ever before, making You Only Live 2wice a rather fascinating listen for anyone, like me, who has been a fan of Gibbs’ previous output. As its title and album cover suggest, You Only Live 2wice sees the MC ultimately finding some positive resolve in last year’s dire situation, choosing to view himself as starting a new life for himself in some regards, like a messiah being resurrected from the dead. Ultimately, however, whilst such a rushed release is understandable as a means of rekindling his career after an unlucky turn of events, You Only Live 2wice is very rough around the edges, to the point of being more interesting as a spectacle of Gibbs’ personal life than as a musical accomplishment for the artist.
Although the most impressive album of Gibbs’ career, Piñata, was brought to life by the biting production techniques of Madlib, the MC’s delivery is consistently a strong point of his material, being as aggressive and hard-hitting as one would expect from a gangsta rapper, whilst still managing to pull out those emotions on his more personal and ruminative bars. You Only Live 2wice sees no changes in this regard, with Gibbs’ performances being as fiery and stirring as ever, making tracks such as the lead single, Crushed Glass, wherein the rapper addresses his extradition with even more candour than that which was present on his previous studio album, the meditative Shadow of a Doubt, all the more compelling. Indeed, the way in which Gibbs interacts with his experiences behind bars, as well as the aftermath of such drama, provides an impressively multi-faceted perspective on these events and their ramifications through his lyrics on Crushed Glass. Given the context of the artist’s personal life, recently making plans to settle down with his wife and their infant daughter, the emotions that Gibbs conveys regarding the charges alleged against him range from guilt to anger to stress to heartache, all of which he expresses through some insightful observations. Amongst the most prominent is the line, “Choppin’ the porcelain up for years, said I’m suckin’ glass / I beat the DEA and the task, now I’m on my ass”, with the rapper acknowledging the irony of long having been resigned to the fact that he was likely to end up in prison at some point due to his history of selling cocaine, but then finally being locked up for a crime he didn’t commit just as he was looking to straighten his life out. Such brutally truthful perceptions occur in the midst of Gibbs’ grief surrounding the effect that his arrest had on his wife and daughter, and are delivered with the kind of forthrightness that puts a significant amount of weight behind the MC’s more emotive bars. Much of the the opening cut from You Only Live 2wice, 20 Karat Jesus, features some similarly cogent lines, with this track seemingly acting as the summarisation of the overall narrative of the album. On this song, Gibbs displays an acute self-awareness as he recognises the backwards ethics of his lifestyle (“Thug in the pen, I need forgiveness / I’m livin’ like every decision a sin”), his dependence on his faith to get his life back on track (“Heavenly Father, take the wheel”), his need to remain level-headed during his time in prison (“My cellie like to walk around in his sleep, I rather stay woke”), and much more, with much of 20 Karat Jesus establishing recurring themes across the record, making it a fitting opener for an album that occasionally lacks direction. Indeed, whilst it’s unfortunate that the salient exceptionally compelling aspect of You Only Live 2wice is the light it shines on the recent disturbances to Gibbs’ career and personal life, the artist nevertheless approaches such topics with a level of vigour that makes his pleas incredibly persuasive.
However, whilst the more remarkable songs on You Only Live 2wice are powerful in their honesty, Gibbs’ gangsta rapper façade that is peppered throughout the tracklisting often sours these moments, with the rapper essentially brazenly embodying the persona for which he has just expressed guilt. Amnesia is particularly guilty of this, as it exhibits the style of upfront braggadocio that is a cornerstone of gangsta rap, but in such a way as to render some of the other topics touched on the record evidently superficial. Having detailed the mental burden of having to face his wife behind glass as she was in tears just a couple of tracks prior, boasting about having “fucked four bitches at Four Seasons” diminishes the emotional impact of Gibbs’ touching stories elsewhere on the album. The main issue here is not that either of these lyrical styles are unsuited to Gibbs, rather it is the lack of consistency that engenders such problems. In attempting to maintain both of these conflicting images of himself within the same conceptual framework, both images work at odds with the other, in that Gibbs’ more emotional attitude softens the blow of the contradictory thug persona, whilst the bravado of his thug lifestyle cheapens the sentiment behind his heartfelt confessions. Whilst on the topic of Gibbs’ lyrical chops on You Only Live 2wice, a handful of bars across the record show him cutting corners, opting for lazy rhymes at times, which only adds to the feeling that this project was especially rushed. Indeed, bar the gripping moments of self-analysis on cuts like Crushed Glass and Homesick, much of You Only Live 2wice would have benefited from a great deal more time being put into the thought processes behind some of these songs, as to ensure that both the narrative and Gibbs’ delivery remained smooth and, ultimately, consistent across the entire record.
With regards to the production on You Only Live 2wice, like the lyrics, the effectiveness and overall quality of the beats across the tracklisting vary significantly, with, once again, an unfortunate amount of the material feeling somewhat incomplete as a result of clearly being pressed for time. Dear Maria, for instance, is a far cry from the vibrant textures of the production provided by Madlib on Piñata, with the pounding bass and rattling percussion crowding the mix and making much of the cut feel rather claustrophobic. This is particularly noticeable as Gibbs comes in with some of his faster flows, as the cluttered production make it needlessly difficult to discern what the rapper is saying at such points. Moreover, a problem that crops up even on the better cuts on the album is that many of these songs offer little in the way of a particularly tangible hook, with a recurring technique being for the production to take a more atmospheric turn as some soulful female vocals flutter around in the distance, as is the case on Dear Maria and even Crushed Glass, which gives the listener little to take away from these refrains. A significant amount of tracks also feature rather prolonged outro segments, during which time the song seemingly just peters out, yet again pointing to the fragmentary nature of You Only Live 2wice that has arisen courtesy of the time constraints. This being said, there are certainly highlights on the record when it comes to crafting dynamic beats that layer many textures upon one another nicely without detracting from Gibbs’ performances. With production credits from KAYTANDRA and BADBADNOTGOOD, it’s no surprise that the icy instrumental of Alexys is a prime example of this, whilst the ethereal guitar and looming strings of Crushed Glass are effective for similar reasons. 20 Karat Jesus is undoubtedly the stand-out track from the album, when it comes to production, primarily due to the success of its beat change halfway through the cut. The brooding, bassy beat of the first section of the song sets a dark tone, over which Gibbs comes through with his hard-hitting, double time delivery, whilst the choral vocals and jazzy bass of the latter half lift the tone of the cut considerably, retaining a bright, natural dynamic as the MC’s flow is made more buoyant as to suit this change of pace. Then again, although You Only Live 2wice undoubtedly yields some particularly impressive highlights when it comes to the production, the entire record, including the better cuts, often feels overly muddy and cramped, which, of course, dulls even the more glitzy beats.
Ultimately, whilst You Only Live 2wice is an interesting listen from the perspective of someone who closely follows Freddie Gibbs’ work, it nevertheless comes across as somewhat of a transient record, seemingly designed to satiate fans for the time being as Gibbs works on the follow-up to Piñata with Madlib or a more fleshed-out solo project. As such, the material on here is undeniably disjointed and inconsistent and, at times, arguably incomplete. Of course, with the content of this record being so varied in terms of both approach and execution, a significant amount of impressive moments result from the inconsistency. Indeed, even Gibbs’ biting performances and admirable storytelling capabilities alone would have saved this record from being particularly egregious, but thankfully, there are at least a handful of highlights when it comes to production too. Overall, therefore, You Only Live 2wice is certainly a valuable addition to Gibbs’ discography, given the light it shines on his situation and future in the rap game, but it is also too incoherent at times to be viewed with the same esteem as his better material. Nonetheless, if You Only Live 2wice is indeed as transitory as it seems, hopefully Gibbs has something bigger in the works.
The Vinyl Verdict: 6.5/10