Freddie Gibbs, the Gary, Ind. emcee making a name for himself by updating gangster rap for the mixtape age, took plenty of time getting to The Jazz Kitchen stage Wednesday night, giving us plenty of time with his opening acts. It all started with Rusty Redenbacher, who kicked off the evening with a chill DJ set before handing over control of the stage to Indy’s hip-hop jack of all trades, Oreo Jones. The night was young and the crowd thin, but a handful of avid Heavy Gun fans were present to bob heads as Jones performed. With the assistance of photographer/DJ Rumi Sakuraeda (spinning a hip-hop set for the first time, according to Jones), the young emcee rapped favorites from both his Delicious EP and his Save The Music album released last week (“Go download it, ya’ll. It’s free!”).
Just before midnight Rockwell Knuckles came on stage with an intensity and force that could have easily been misconstrued for anger or fury. “That was some melodic shit to show you what I have to bring to the relationship,” he said upon conclusion of his opening track. “Now we’re gonna do some hard rappin.'" Throughout his performance, Knuckles connected with the audience with real talk between songs. There was no artificial hype, just genuine interaction.
Around 12:30 a.m., I was hopeful that the evening’s headliner would be introduced soon. The stage was flooded with rappers, but Gibbs was still nowhere to be seen. Finally, after nearly 20 minutes of sporadic rapping and “technical difficulties” from the cluster of emcees on stage, it was at last time for the man of the hour. As the clock approached 1 a.m., a voice on the microphone said, “We need all the weed smokers to get Freddie out here. Make some noise!” Almost instantly, the non-smoking Jazz Kitchen transformed into a giant cloud of marijuana smoke. Not convinced we were ready, the man on the microphone requested noise from the audience three times before Gibbs began.
Early in the set, a fight nearly broke out in the audience. In a display of crowd awareness, Gibbs stopped the music immediately and called them out, “Who’s over there causing a disruption? You fuckin’ up my show?” Throughout the evening, Gibbs would periodically call to the swarm of people, “Fuck po-lice!” to which they would echo back the same words. He turned the phrase around for the troublemakers in the crowd, telling them, “I’ll police your asses."
The collection of emcees that flooded the stage before Gibbs’ entry stuck around for the entire show, not doing much other than lingering in the background and occasionally chastising the audience for not making enough noise. Once, when Gibbs wasn’t vibing with the crowd, he asked the DJ to cut a song off early. These signs of spectator fatigue were likely due to the mega-late start time. The Jazz Kitchen’s attendance level for the night hit its max around 11:30, but had dwindled significantly in size before Gibbs' set was even halfway complete.
It’s a shame so many people left before he was done. The widespread comparisons of Gibbs’ music to that of old-school gangsta rap are accurate. His lyrics touch on life topics that are real and true to him as a native of Gary, Ind., and his crowd interaction frequently leverages on the assumption that the majority of his fans are weed smokers. Early in the set, “Face Down” struck nerves with fans, who Gibbs encouraged to sing and bounce along for one of the concert’s strongest moments. “Ya’ll like that, huh?” he asked and then continued, “That’s why we’re gonna do it again!” Later, Gibbs announced “I’ma do something special. I don’t need no beat. Just clap." The crowd-driven cadence provided a foundation on which Gibbs delivered an a cappella rap that incited fans to cheer in admiration.
The full set was brief (barely 40 minutes) but well-worth the wait for those who were able to stay out so late on a Wednesday night. “I’m about to bounce,” Gibbs announced before concluding the show. “Catch me smokin’ in a city near you!” Before leaving, he performed an encore in response to the audience chants for one more song, another a cappella indulgence for those who were there to finish the hip hop marathon at nearly 2 in the morning.
Danielle covers local music for NUVO.net and IndyMojo.com.