Freddie Gibbs New Movie “Down With The King” Explores The Pitfalls of Rap Success

Freddie Gibbs new movie “Down With The King” has an interesting premise. In the film, Gibbs plays a rapper named Money Merc, who has retreated to a secluded home in an unnamed wilderness, ostensibly to record a new album.

When we first meet Merc, he appears to have recently arrived in the country, and while he’s on the hunt for inspiration and a recharge of his batteries, he finds it not in the notebooks he hopes to fill with new lyrics, but rather, with some of the local characters — particularly a young woman who works at a local hardware store, and Big Bob, a farmer in need of assistance with his pigs and cows.

The movie, directed by French filmmaker Diego Ongaro, moves patiently and carefully, operating more as a deep character study than a plot-filled caper, comedy or drama. This works to the film’s advantage, with Gibbs delivering an Oscar-worthy performance of a man seemingly trapped by the life he has made for himself.

Merc’s biggest challenges are internal. He is in the throws of an existential crisis, wrestling with having realized his hopes and dreams, only to find that it isn’t what it seems. He is content to walk away. But the work he creates puts food on the table for numerous people who rely on him; namely, his manager, entourage, mother and children. And so, for them, he is forced to keep going.

Work on the new album is slow. It isn’t coming together. In the mornings at the house he looks out on the great wilderness before him, and he seems at peace. He makes coffee, he chops wood, helps out on the farm and hikes. Doing this, he is content.

Why be a rapper, Merc seems to be asking himself. It’s a worthy question because, as he asks one character in the movie — “What other job in music do you gotta worry about getting shot?”

Among the biggest strengths of “Down With The King” is how it humanizes Money Merc, as well as the supporting characters. Normally, when we see rappers on the screen, they are cartoon cutouts of what some filmmaker with zero connection to hip-hop culture thinks they are supposed to be. They have no emotion, no point of view, no interior life.

Here, most of what we see is the opposite — Money Merc working out what is occurring inside of him through the life that he is experiencing, a life much different from the one he has become accustomed to as a famous musician, a life which he had only aspired to obtain to escape the life he’d been born into.

This tug of war seeps into Merc’s creative output as well. The rhymes he eventually records are at odds with his state of mind, but he seems resigned to deliver more of what his fans expect of him — gangsta rap — only because he knows it’s a formula that works.

Between the fans and the business, he remains eternally imprisoned, and that is the central conceit of the film. It is a powerful one, and in a crowded media landscape with dozens of films, TV shows, podcasts and books vying for your attention, certainly worth watching.

It’s on Amazon on-demand.

If you liked this article, consider checking out my first book — “Most Dope: The Extraordinary Life of Mac Miller.”

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Paul Cantor

Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.