Freddie Gibbs & Madlib // Piñata

by on March 18, 2014

Posted in: Hip Hop

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What do you want out of life? What’s your grandest ambition, your most personal desire? What small idea motivates you through each day, and swims in your mind as you fall asleep? For Tupac lookalike, Young Jeezy hater and Gary, Indiana’s best rapper, Freddie Gibbs, the answer is a piñata filled with cocaine.

“I mean, what does everybody want out of life? Don’t you want a cocaine piñata? Wouldn’t that shit be cool?” Gibbs postulated in a recent interview.

Piñata is Gangsta Gibbs and prolific producer Madlib’s ode to a lifestyle where the ultimate goal is a David Lynchian narcotics-filled childrens birthday party—it’s “a gangster Blaxploitation film on wax,” according to Gibbs. Originally titled Cocaine Piñata, the project is a larger than life throwback to the silky yet streetwise decadence of older gangster rap, and Madlib’s best work since Madvillainy, his 2004 left field masterpiece with MF DOOM. More than being about any theme or concept, the album functions as a display of just how damn good Freddie Gibbs and Madlib are at their jobs.

Madlib has finally found a worthy post-DOOM counterpart for his funky, change-pace-on-a-dime style of production. Sure, most songs can trace their roots to a 70s slow jam sample, but the grooves are so perfectly selected that the album never lags. Madlib embellishes on the album’s unifying aesthetic with characteristically odd bells and whistles, like traffic noises on “Scarface” and what sounds like light xylophone tapping on “Real.” Up-tempo highlights “Shitsville” and the “1 Train” response “Piñata” stick out from the rest of the album’s sound, but there isn’t a bad beat in the bunch.

The album’s rapping is held down with equal consistency and dopeness. Gibbs has one of the deepest and most gravelly voices in the rap game, and it’s constantly striking the balance between intimidating and thoughtful. This reviewer wishes his dad had that voice. Like his producing counterpart, Gibbs draws from a central theme—his gangster life—which, because of raw talent for wordplay and imagery, stays interesting and fresh.

Take “Thuggin,” for example. In a track so explicitly about being a thug that the title is “Thuggin’.” Gibbs still manages to weave in political commentary (“Why the Feds worried ’bout me clocking on this corner / When there’s politicians out here getting popped in Arizona”) and the story of a family member falling into drug addiction (“My uncle last bitch put him on the glass dick / Tried to rob a man to feed his habit, he got blasted”), amongst other narratives. He’s a street poet, and is as comfortable calling out Young Jeezy (see the entire song “Real”) as he is weaving vividly believable stories into his bars. You start nodding your head to a beat like “Knicks,” and all of a sudden you’re right there, next to middle school-era Freddie as he makes his first drug sale.

Moments like that are why Gibbs and Madlib work so well in tandem. Both are so unwavering in their technical finesse that if you try to focus on just one, the other will quickly swoop in to steal the show. Piñata is a consistently good album, and while it never reaches for the stars, it sure as hell kicks ass on the ground.

Piñata is out March 18 via Madlib Invazion
Best Tracks: “Deeper,” “Thuggin’,” “Piñata”
RIYL:  Big K.R.I.T., Madvillain, the Alchemist
Grade: B+

  • megameng

    good article but neglects to mention the star-studded lineup of featured artists on the album: Danny Brown, Raekwon, Earl Sweatshirt, Ab-soul…