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Bust Down’s Freddie Gibbs Never Wants to Play a Rapper

Freddie Gibbs. Photo: Momodu Mansaray/Getty Images

Freddie Gibbs has always been funny. As a rapper, his lyrics frequently feature the unexpected word choices, clever turns of phrase, and precise observations of a seasoned comic. He’s carefully cultivated his persona to ensure the delivery of his lyrics always matches their content. “I’m in this shit like Burberry shirts at baby showers,” he raps on his 2020 song “All Glass,” calling to mind the type of tag Katt Williams might deliver during a flurry of punch lines. In his music videos, Gibbs has demonstrated a similar knack for comedic timing and character work. Look no further than his 2019 music video for the song “Half Manne Half Cocaine,” in which, playing opposite Eric André, he wakes up from a decade-long coma and attempts to dismiss the cost of ten years of hospital bills by saying, “Fuck you, bitch. I got Obamacare.”

The most complete example of Gibbs’s comedic sensibilities to date arrived in early March in the form of Bust Down, the new Peacock sitcom he recurs in opposite the show’s creators, comedians Chris Redd, Sam Jay, Jak Knight, and Langston Kerman. In his scene-stealing role as Chauncey, the head of human resources and the floor manager of the miserable casino where the ensemble works, Gibbs elevates what may have, in lesser hands, been seen as stunt casting. He brings a quiet intensity and distinct physicality to the role, bulging his eyes and gesticulating wildly to imbue his character with an outward bravado that clashes with his relative powerlessness as a middle manager. Gibbs recently discussed Bust Down, his love for comedy, and the various dream roles he hopes to take on in order to put him squarely ahead of Cam’ron in the ranks of rappers who have pivoted to acting.

Bust Down has been five years in the making. How did you first hear about it and get on board?
I was doing my little stand-up comedy night, and Jak Knight and Sam Jay came to the show. Shout-out to my boy Brian Moses. He linked me with them. It was just through rocking with Brian and hanging around the comedy world. That’s how I met Langston Kerman and Chris Redd too. They just figured they had a spot for me.

What made you want to put on a stand-up show?
That’s something I started doing last year just to display comics. I love comedy, man, and I love putting it out there. I grew up watching Robin Harris, Martin Lawrence, Richard Pryor, Bernie Mac, and guys like that. I just love that world.

Have you been doing some stand-up yourself?
Yeah, I’ve been dibbling and dabbling in it, trying to get better. It comes naturally. Being onstage, being a rapper, and talking to people all day, it’s kind of easy.

I was watching Bust Down, and I was a little surprised by how good you are in it, considering this is your first full-time acting role. But then I went back and rewatched some of your music videos, and I realized you’ve done a lot of acting in them!
I’ve been trying to be an actor for the longest time. This isn’t my first crack at it. I’ve been auditioning for probably over ten years. I think I’m just now starting to get in the position to get the roles I want to get, you know? I’ve been losing roles to a lot of big people for a long time. And deservedly so — way more experienced actors. I had to pay my dues.

So was the idea of putting elaborate sketches in your music videos all these years to build a reel and secretly audition for acting roles?
You guessed it. I wanted to show them that I could actually act, so when they came to me for acting roles, they could just reference those music videos. That’s actually how I got the role for the movie Down With the King that I did. The director saw my “Crime Pays” video and was like, Damn, this is a Black dude on a farm. I think he could pull off being on a farm.

Bust Down is set in your hometown of Gary, Indiana. I have to imagine that wasn’t a coincidence. If the show gets a season two, are there any regional Gary traditions or hot spots you’d like to see it highlight?
Shit, it actually was a coincidence to me! That’s just the way Sam, Jak, Chris, and Langston wrote it. It’s their baby. I’m just coming in and carrying out the duty that was assigned to me. Those guys really put the time and effort into developing something great, and all I had to do was come in and slam-dunk it.

But there’s a lot of shit that we’d have to do in season two. We have to actually go to Gary, and there’s a lot of places we need to show. I think with the show having success and everything culminating at the right time, we’ll be able to do more of that. I think NBC is going to give us a bigger budget so we can do more traveling and get it popping. I’m just glad that Sam and everyone else put me in it and chose me to be a part of it. They could have gotten anybody, you know? But to actually have someone from Gary in this show, it just makes it even more authentic.

At the end of the first season, Chauncey gets a huge promotion in part because of white guilt. How do you think he is going to respond to all his newfound power and responsibility?
Chauncey is definitely going to ride the white guilt until the wheels fall off. Oh, man, I think it’s definitely going to go to his fucking head. He’s probably going to be way more arrogant and even more of an asshole. The thing about the show is that it’s not politically correct. Chauncey is homophobic, misogynistic, lightweight racist, but you love him anyway because he’s a real fucking person. Every person in the world ain’t politically correct.

He kind of reminds me of an uncle at a family gathering who everyone loves even though he often says the wrong thing and makes them uncomfortable.
Definitely. The whole show is built to make you uncomfortable, then make you laugh. I mean, we’re talking about sexual harassment in the workplace and topics like that — topics that make people cringe. That shows the genius of Sam, Chris, Langston, and Jak because they can turn these topics right back around and make them funny. We need a little joy right now with all the shit we’ve been going through the past two years with this pandemic. I think Bust Down was needed.

I wanted to ask you about one particular scene in episode two: the scene where Jak’s character is covered in sperm from the sperm bank and he’s chasing you around the break room.
Oh my God. That nut looked so real on set.

Do you know what they made it from?
I have no clue, but the good people at Universal made some kind of magic mix, and he was covered in semen. I was like, “Okay, I’m out of here. I’m not in this scene, am I?” They said, “Yeah.” I was like, Fuck!

In the pantheon of rappers pivoting to acting, from Will Smith in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air to André 3000 in Four Brothers to Cam’ron in Killa Season, where do you hope you stack up when it’s all said and done?
Um, better than Cam’ron in Killa Season. No, Cam’ron in Paid in Full was a beast. At the end of the day, man, I’ve gotten to look back and see a lot of great guys make the transition from rap into film. I’ve seen that the ones who take it seriously and have the most success are guys like Ice Cube and Common — guys in the game that you really have to give that credit to. I just study all of those guys, man. I try to be more involved in the production and writing and all of that stuff. I see what 50 Cent does, and I admire that. I kind of want to go in that direction.

Do you have any dream roles?
Hell, yeah. I’ve got some new roles coming up. Shit, I’m on Power 50 put me on that. That’s definitely a dream role. I want to play whatever they want me to play, man. I want to play a lawyer. I want to play a cop. I want to fight Michael B. Jordan in Creed 3. That’s really my dream role right there.

I can also see you playing someone in a biopic. Like, you sort of played an old soul singer in your video for “Gat Damn.”
I’d do a biopic. I’m just not going to play a rapper. I think that shit is corny. I’m tired of rap biopics. I don’t want to know about these niggas yet. There’s only certain rappers that deserve biopics, know what I’m saying?

I wanted to ask you about the episode of The Joe Rogan Experience you were on recently. The timing of your episode was interesting because it was pretty soon after that compilation video of Joe Rogan saying the N-word started spreading. I noticed you talked to Joe about some organizations he could donate to in order to make up for his past actions.
Yeah! I feel like niggas didn’t give me enough motherfucking credit for going on there and spanking Joe Rogan and telling him he can’t say nigga. People take that shit for granted. I stood up on behalf of Black people. They’re going to write that shit in the history books!

Did you and Joe end up following up on those donation opportunities?
Yeah, Joe is a real dude. He’s going to do it. I got some projects he’s going to be a part of — a basketball initiative, some art-gallery opportunities. Joe ain’t just doing this because I told him to. He really wants to redeem himself and do some good stuff in the community. And that’s the point because we could cancel Joe Rogan, but then what the fuck use would we have for him? We have to have conversations and move forward with shit.

Bust Down’s Freddie Gibbs Never Wants to Play a Rapper