Freddie Gibbs 

Str8 Killa No Filla (No DJ)

Only Freddie Gibbs could rightfully boast about gracing magazine covers without a record label. Or call himself "Gangsta Gibbs" with no sense of irony. Or crib a beat from Masta Ace and one-up the original rap. Or set a drug skit against a Stevie Wonder sample (the 1985 hit "Overjoyed"). The Gary, Indiana-raised emcee put his career in the lap of fate after getting dropped from Interscope with no record in 2009, then leaking his own mixtape on the Internet. Whether or not that's a smart marketing move is debatable. In Gibbs' case, it worked.

Gibbs is what you might call a classical gangster rapper. He's narrowly focused on drug-trafficking in the 'hood, and he describes it in sordid detail. He seldom ventures out to the club. He sometimes raps in proverbs. He raps at a fast clip but never misses a beat. He relishes lyrics with internal rhymes and alliteration — e.g., the half-sung, half-chanted line in "P.S.A. (Pussy So Amazing)," about a heifer hoin' and hookin/By day she cleanin' and cookin'. And while his raps don't always make great poetry, they all have a literary quality that sounds more intuitive than intentional. "The Ghetto" might sound like an old parable about coming up hard, but Gibbs' easy groove and quick, drawling flow make it irresistible.

At this point, Gibbs has yet to produce a bona fide LP. He's dropped two EPs and a spate of mixtapes, the latest spawned from his August 3 Str8 Killa EP. Now based in Los Angeles and generating a huge cult of fandom, he's well-positioned for major label success. But given that his career flourished after a failed Interscope deal, Gibbs could just go it alone. (Gibbs Family/Decon)

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