I’ve been a fan of Mr. Gibbs ever since 2014’s Piñata, his masterpiece collaboration with legendary producer Madlib. Probably the greatest rapper to emerge from Gary, Indiana (though I’ll shamefully admit I’ve never listened to Ric Jilla, self-proclaimed #PrideOfIndiana), Gibbs sports a style of low-key aggression with a hard-edged flow that recalls the great gangsta rap of the ’90s. But consistently dark, dense, ambitious production lifts Gibbs’ tracks beyond the realm of ’90s throwback.
However, the notorious events of last summer tested my appreciation for the rapper — Gibbs was extradited from to Austria on accusations of drugging and sexually abusing two women, though he was acquitted of all charges in September 2016 and maintains he is “100% innocent.” Even after the relief of Gibbs’ acquittal, though, it’s still an emotionally exhausting exercise to try and defend the man. And Gibbs probably understands the moral conundrum he put his fans in; he wastes no time furiously defending his honor on dreary first single, “Crushed Glass.”
And beyond the single, You Only Live 2wice stays dark and devastating (especially relative to the syrupy Lil Yachty-core that insidiously infected mainstream hip-hop in 2016). “Alexys” is one of the grimiest, most stunning hip-hop tracks of 2017, and I was shocked to find usually chipper BadBadNotGood and KAYTRANADA are behind the production. Overall, at a tidy 32 minutes and eight tracks, the album doesn’t overstay its welcome — but Gibbs’ snarling, confident flow makes it sound like he’s making up for lost time. It might be the first essential American hip-hop album of 2017.