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How Ben ‘Lambo’ Lambert Built a Lane for Freddie Gibbs

Last Updated: January 26, 2023
Merging alt-rock aesthetics and candid comedic value, learn the inside baseball behind Gangsta Gibbs’ glorious rise.

Friends: how many of us have them?

For Freddie Gibbs, the list is long but the circle is tight.

With a community of fans that runs the gamut from Lena Waithe to Joe Rogan to Kevin Durant, the gangster rapper from Gary, Indiana keeps company like a comedian by being comfortable in any and every room. But despite numerous A-list acquaintances, few would have predicted his A-list ascent.

Since signing to Interscope in the early aughts, Freddie Gibbs has been dropped, dragged, left for dead, or cancelled countless times.

Somehow, he’s managed to become rap’s most reputable brand. Consistently barring up artists of both the champagne and underground varieties, “Freddie Kane” remained authentic and agile, working with everyone from Madlib to Kelly Price.

Operating under the Young Jeezy roadmap only a decade ago, who could have called that?

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Gazing in the rearview, maybe it was seeing Michael Jackson join forces with Colonel Sanders that inspired Freddie Gibbs to partner with forces far removed from his assumed audience. Or perhaps it was the steering of his business better half, Ben Lambert, a.k.a. “Lambo.”

The right hand to the MC raised in the home of the icon with one glove, Lambo grew up on hip-hop in the same era as Gibbs, influenced equally by his cultured kin and sunny California surroundings.

“I was raised around music,” Ben “Lambo” Lambert told Boardroom.

“My dad worked around music in the ’70s and ’80s and my mom worked around film. My uncle was working for the Grateful Dead and I was an MTV kid. During the summer, me and my sister would just watch MTV all day and soak it up.”

Around the same time the kid born Fredrick Tipton was pursuing scholarships for football and dodging discipline by going in and out of the Army, Lambo was working for free in the music industry. Like Gibbs, he was earning his stripes in the field.

“I was on the street team for Slum Village at 15,” Lambo says. “I signed up off the back of the CD and was the kid in LA putting up stickers and calling up the radio station requesting the songs. I was the kid in high school who knew all about hip-hop.”

By college at Cal-Berkeley, Lambo’s aspirations and connections set the stage for higher-profile work.

“My friend’s older brother was an A&R at Interscope and Capitol when he was super young. He was one of the first people to try to sign 50 Cent and Kanye. He took me on as his intern and talent scout.”

For those keen on the tales told on “Last Call,” that A&R was Joe “3H” Weinberger. Under his assistance and also at his assistance, it was Lambo’s summer project to find hip hop’s next superstar to sign at Interscope. However, this task came with constraints.

“He’d say, ‘The rapper can’t be from Atlanta, New York, LA, or Chicago.’ I don’t know if he was messing with me, but I ended up finding Freddie.”

A raw artist out of Indiana, Freddie had it. Lambo saw potential instantly, as did Interscope, signing him to the same stable that had G-Unit doing numbers.

“This was the 50 Cent and Eminem era so everything was going gold and platinum.”

Suddenly, the plan was set: record an album with all the top producers, graduate from Cal, and become an A&R alongside his boy 3H. As often, plans changed.

“Freddie got dropped. Back then, you had to have a radio hit or be signed to 50 Cent or Eminem. I ended up working on mixtapes for Freddie by night, and by day I’d work for the indie label Stones Throw.”

It was there Lambo linked Freddie with DJ/producer Madlib, a creative kinship that would bear fruits years later. For the time being, Lambo kept pushing while his artist lived in limbo, wondering where both their careers were headed.

“Freddie was by himself and I was by myself. I discovered him in ’05, started managing him in ’08, and we never looked back.”

Taking on the managerial moniker, Lambo led by example as both aimed to break the mold. Utilizing expanding bandwidth and reach of the internet, the music made during the unsigned nights soon became fully-fledged products disseminated for public consumption.

“We were putting out free albums. In 2009, Drake put out So Far Gone and we put out Midwest. These were albums that were free, not mixtapes. They were completely original material. We weren’t making any money off of it.”

Still striving and basically broke, Lambo continued his day job at Stones Throw while working his own artist on the side.

“I went to SXSW with Stones Throw and I went around to all these journalists at the Nah Right x The Smoking Section Showcase. Trent Clark from TSS was from the Midwest and I told him about the video where Freddie raps over 2Pac’s ‘Bury Me a G.’ TC loved it, posted it, and it became one of their highest-traffic posts. That automatically set it off.”

After breaking onto the blogs, critical acclaim for Freddie began popping up anywhere and everywhere. Despite his independent nature, small-market roots, and gritty music, everyone from Pitchfork to The New Yorker was picking up what he was putting down.

“He became the gangster rapper that was embraced by the journalists, academics, and hipsters when that wasn’t really a thing,” Lambo said.

Similar to the surge The Clipse came onto during their Jive Records frustration, music’s most pretentious gatekeepers were opening the doors to Gibbs and introducing him to an entirely new fanbase. This was more than just lucky — it opened up a lane that could also be lucrative.

As Lambo recalled, “Freddie fit in the middle where he was introspective and touching on street stuff. We cracked a code that we started running with.”

For decades, rappers had been marketed in total cookie-cutter fashion. Either an artist was making money and predestined for pop crossover or they were a backpack purist, uninterested in appealing to anyone outside their sound or ethos.

In rock music, meanwhile, this all-or-nothing “radio or open mic” approach does not exist. Historically, some of the greatest touring acts such as Tool, Dave Matthews Band, and Phish found both comfort and commerce by giving their core audience exactly what they wanted, not the casuals. Selling out arenas was not contingent on breaking Billboard, allowing experience and branding as a means to build fully-formed worlds for die-hard fans.

While rappers waiting for Freshman nods in XXL or bombs dropped on HOT97 rode the rollercoaster of hype to hot to played-out, Lambo let Gibbs live in the same stratosphere as the indie bands being championed by Brooklyn Vegan.

“When I was listening to rap music in high school, my sister was listening to Pavement and Fugazi. I had this epiphany where if we can’t be on the radio because we’re independent, we can be even bigger than the guys on the radio now just by having a diehard fan base. I pointed to bands like Modest Mouse who were never the biggest band in the world, but grew and grew until they had a hit. Even if they didn’t, they had a following where they were playing festivals, touring, and always were part of the conversation.”

Having had an uncle who worked alongside Jerry Garcia for years, this type of slow-burn success made much more sense than trend-hopping or searching for a single.

“The Grateful Dead didn’t have a hit until 1987.”

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Over the course of the 2010s, the ride for Freddie Gibbs and Lambo would be a wild one. From rocking with Jeezy to collaborating with The Alchemist, Gibbs grew less by being positioned next to superstars as much as working with those just to the left of his hardcore home.

It started with 2014’s Piñata, a collaborative album with Madlib that’s only grown in cross-cultural fanfare over time.

Piñata didn’t really blow up until later and now people look at it as a classic. But at the time? People didn’t think that,” Lambo said.

It was hard to tell then, but it’s obvious now — a through line for some of the most timeless art.

Illmatic was a sleeper until later. Illmatic‘s bigger than Piñata, but Piñata is like a cult classic,” Lambo continued. “It’s like a movie you discovered later on Letterboxd or Criterion. It’s like, wait, how did I miss this? When we were making the album, I knew it was ahead of the curve because there was nothing like it. A ‘gangster rapper’ making an album with Madlib? Not to take anything away from anyone else, but at that time, even Run the Jewels hadn’t happened yet. It’s easy now to say it’s obvious, but at the time, nothing was happening like that.”

Marketed as “a gangster Blaxploitation film on wax,” Gibbs ventured into the ears of MF Doom listeners and the unorthodox side of hip-hop, one often positioned opposite of his gangster rap roots.

“He didn’t grow up in that world; he wasn’t immersed in it. But you saw what Piñata did for him,” Lambo said. “That was the album that really woke people up and we haven’t really looked back from there.”

Since then, the looks have been larger and lefter.

From marketing to movies, Lambo has leveraged Freddie’s fearless sense of humor with his natural charisma. Rapping like he has nothing to lose while creating a colorful, teeming universe for his fans, Gibbs is continuing to show more sides of himself, revealing an affectionate duality most artists are too concerned to commercialize.

This concept crystalized on 2018’s Freddie, an album whose visual art attained as much attention and praise as its sonic success.

“At the time, every rapper making hardcore music had a hardcore image,” Lambo recalled. “Freddie is one of the funniest people on the planet, but people didn’t know it yet because the music was mostly serious, so we created this persona with the Teddy Pendergrass remake and the infomercials. All of a sudden, Puff Daddy and all the industry was posting it and they had never shown us any attention. That was a moment of, ‘Wait a second, if I show my character and personality when I present the music, it’ll take me to a whole new stratosphere.'”

That it did. By the Piñata sequel Bandana in 2019 with Madlib to 2020’s Alfredo alongside The Alchemist, Freddie was receiving more than just praise from Pitchfork, but big slots at major music festivals.

While everyone from Pusha-T to the Tyler, the Creator came to love Gibbs within the industry, Lambo continued to build a bigger and better space for those down since Day 1.

“We’re creating a whole parallel universe for the audience to sit in. For Bandana, Freddie drove Hollywood bus tours and we got a plane to pull a banner in the sky over the Hollywood sign. For Alfredo, I created a fake restaurant for people to buy merch.”

Even as the pandemic put touring on a hold — poor timing considering the Grammy Award nomination that arrived for Alfredo — Lambo leaned into apparel and storytelling to feed fans and keep the album alive.

“[With Alfredo] we were not selling Freddie and Alchemist merch, but selling merch for a fake business. That shit went crazy,” he said. “We did so good off of it that every time we dropped a music video, we were dropping 10 to 20 pieces of merch. People were buying it every time.”

In actuality, fans are not just buying Freddie merch — they’re buying who Freddie is.

“People are really attracted to his personality. He’s a line-pusher, and people either like that or they don’t. Freddie operates more like a comedian or pro skateboarder in the way he moves and lives his life. He’s a man of the people,” Lambo said.

“When he started going nuts on his Instagram stories, he got banned for the content, but he got this crazy celebrity following off of it. The people who reacted in his DMs to funny content were like A-list celebrities. Him and KD linked off Instagram.”

Like Durant, Gibbs is unfazed by the fame and totally dedicated to his craft — fans and friends alike would rather hear both muse on topics tied to their interests than pose for pictures on red carpets.

“He’s comfortable in his own skin. When you get so famous it’s hard to be yourself and know how to act. He doesn’t care and I think that plays in his favor a lot. People want to be around a rebel or a class clown, that kid who can say whatever in class. That attracted the celebrities around him, and on top of that he’s talented,” Lambo said.

And as Gibbs gains an even bigger audience thanks to his 2022 album, $oul $old $eparately, he might be just be done with music.

Or he might not.

Interested in acting, he’s become buddies with Mahershala Ali and Don Cheadle, who have offered advice and support as he reads for roles. In fact, belonging on the big screen isn’t a new hope spurred by recent success. He’s been auditioning for years and was nearly cast in 2014’s Inherent Vice.

“He read with Joaquin Phoenix and Paul Thomas Anderson, but they said he didn’t look right in the wig, so they ended up going with Michael K. Williams,” Lambo recalled. “He’s been wanting to do it for years. He got offered a role in Down with the King off the ‘Crime Pays’ video. It was really low risk, high reward in my opinion. He ended up being in the Cannes Film Festival.”

So, like famous fan Diddy, are movies his next shit?

“It’s just like rap, he just needed a chance. He’s a natural talent. Now, he’s getting all types of auditions because of that chance.”

For now, Lambo lives with his wife and kid in California, working from home while Gibbs grows in a world that’s now his oyster.

The opportunities are a far cry from their failure to launch at Interscope, leaving the major label system that makes stars and breaks stars when some are better fit for writing their own script. As the manager of Freddie’s various endeavors, Lambo’s leaned into the coaching philosophy of Phil Jackson when it comes to daily direction.

Content to allow his guy to make mistakes and follow his instincts, Lambo leans back and lets everything play out. He’s smart enough to know the spots where Freddie fits best, positioning his star player in spaces to win but mostly reacting to what the game gives him.

So far, the music side of things has been good in this regard, with those gleefully immersed in the world they created wondering just what they have in store next.

“We worked on [$oul $old $eparately] for three years, so right now, we’re taking a break from music. He’s saying he might be done, but we’ll see,” he said.

“Now, we’re going hard on film and TV, developing stuff, and working on the production company side, but I take it a day at a time. Is it a podcast, is it a variety show, is it a drama tv series? Freddie is so talented it’s about what he wants to do and how I can enhance that.”

Best believe that it won’t be cameos for clout or quick money grabs to buy relevancy.

“I don’t half-ass anything. With Freddie, I had to put 100% in because there were many times where it could’ve fallen off the tracks but I was never going to allow that to happen.”

While Lambo lets Freddie’s next move come to him, he wonders what’s next for the brand he’s built for himself. For all these years, it’s been just him and Freddie making it all happen. Other talent could eventually be part of the fold; perhaps the sole focus on Freddie and the lone wolf approach simply continues.

“I’m not with a management firm, I don’t have an investor, I don’t have an assistant. Now it’s time to see if we scale up and if we scale up together. I’ve spent so much time figuring it out for him that I’m figuring it out for myself as well,” he said.

Critically, since the days of interning for 3H, Lambo’s never had a formal mentor though he cites Rich Kleiman and Rick Rubin as people he admires and gets game from.

No longer an assistant, Lambo operates as a manager, A&R, and creative director for Gibbs, employing next to no one but engaging an audience that’s getting bigger by the day. Even if he does decide to grow his team, there’s no rush to expand the creative output.

“At the end of the day, it’s the quality. If it’s timeless, time doesn’t matter. It’s quality over quantity. Being very mindful of what the fans want but not being afraid to go left and grow,” Lambo said.

“Doing Madlib and Alchemist albums and then doing Triple $; Not doing something too similar, but keeping the door open to do those things again. Doing the things that as a fan we’d want our favorite artists to do.”

All told, there’s no roadmap for how far the two friends have come.

But there are satellites.

“Growing up, Outkast never did the same thing twice. It was always a growth and progression but they never sacrificed the quality to be commercial. And we’re not afraid to be commercial, that’s a good thing because it means people know you. But we’ve never sacrificed the artistic integrity.”

For Lambo, he still sees Freddie as an independent artist rerouting the rap game with a chance at remaining relevant and creating into his 60s just like Bruce Springsteen or Miles Davis.

He’s seen it happen firsthand with the Grateful Dead, and he’s certain Freddie’s famed rabbit avatar can star in music merch drops for years to come just like Jerry’s dancing bear brands tie-dye tees today.

From red cups to Red Rocks, Lambo has keenly steered Freddie Gibbs into uncharted territory in every sense of the term, and all the while, he has been someone the MC can depend on. Augmenting Gangster Gibbs’ audience through indie rock marketing lessons, the slow burn success is what has both friends still striving for almost 20 years — even if the industry said it couldn’t be done.

“People may not understand everything in the immediate,” Lambo closes.

“But they’ll get it later.”

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About The Author
Ian Stonebrook
Ian Stonebrook
Ian Stonebrook is a Staff Writer covering culture, sports, and fashion for Boardroom. Prior to signing on, Ian spent a decade at Nice Kicks as a writer and editor. Over the course of his career, he's been published by the likes of Complex, Jordan Brand, GOAT, Cali BBQ Media, SoleSavy, and 19Nine. Ian spends all his free time hooping and he's heard on multiple occasions that Drake and Nas have read his work, so that's pretty tight.