Album Review: Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – “Piñata”

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Artist: Freddie Gibbs & Madlib

Album: Piñata

Label: Madlib Invazion

Release Date: March 18, 2014

Cocaine Piñata was the OG working title for the long-awaited collaborative LP between L.A. producer Madlib and Midwest spitter Freddie Gibbs.

The powers that be opted to chop off the first two syllables of the drug-infused title, ultimately dubbing it a bit too real for mainstream consumption. Which if you know anything about Freddie Gibbs, shouldn’t be very surprising.

Though the “cocaine” was literally eschewed from the album, the most illicit element still remains– the unrelenting fervor of the project’s amoral protagonist.

A thirty-two year old rapping leviathan/Makaveli doppelgänger, Gibbs has “been in this game for years,” even if his latest project is the first to really thrust him into the pit of mainstream consumption. Somewhat.

Piñata moved a relatively pedestrian 9,000 units first week, but the fact that they’re actually stocking Gibbs’ stuff on Best Buy shelves now is an accomplishment within itself.  That’s not to mention that this should be considered a feat for an album that was released independently via Madlib’s own label.

Gibbs is as uncompromising and authentic of a rapper as you will find in 2014; his corpus of drug-dealing narratives oxidized by a technical rapping ability that is equal-parts impressive and imposing. Despite the ideal talent and panache to vacate hip-hop’s throne, Gibbs has struggled to find a home to foster his career.

The Gary, Indiana product originally signed a deal with Interscope around ’06 before being dropped from the label, bouncing around as an independent and then hooking up with (Young) Jeezy’s CTE imprint in 2011.

Jeezy and Gibbs’ marriage eventually turned sour last summer, prompting to Gibbs to once again hit rap free agency, and eventually spawning “Real,” the scathing eleventh cut off Piñata. 

On the second verse of “Real,” which is the acrymonized version of “Remember Everybody Ain’t Loyal,” Gibbs verbally melts Jeezy’s manhood over 44 bars, calling him everything from a “puppet” to a “mark,” summating with Gibbs referring to himself as the “Snowman Killa.” It is an “Ether”-esque sublimation that is anything but subliminal.

These days, in the “my Twitter was hacked” age of more circle-jerking than competition, “Real” serves as a refreshing spritzer of gasoline into hip-hop’s fire-retardant, hyper-acquiescent atmosphere. Gibbs is one of only a handful of five active rappers capable of releasing a record packing the indignant punch of “Real,”  with eighty-percent of that stemming from the fact that even with a label’s backing, most rappers still wouldn’t have the balls to do it.

Testicular fortitude is one of Freddie Gibbs’ most frequently utilized tropes. “Phonies ain’t gon’ throw me in this Minstrel Show/ These labels see how far up in they mouth my d*ck can go/ So go’n and, choke on this meat, throw my song on repeat/ Might move away one day but I’m always gonna belong to the streets,” he grizzles on “Thuggin” over Madlib’s shrilling keys.

Madlib, best known around these parts for Madvillainy, his classic 2004 collaboration with MF DOOM, shines once again by hanging in the background and providing vintage-sounding breaks for Gibbs to blow the dust off with his double-time flow. These samples drive Madlib’s production, a less-is-more approach that gives each track an individual, distinct feeling. You almost picture Gibbs as the lone colorized element in the shot, rapping in the foreground of a black and white movie.

Piñata includes a long-list of nameworthy features, or as Gibbs aptly puts it, “every motherf*cker in the rap game worth f*cking with,” including veterans Scarface and Raekwon as well as newer cats like Danny Brown, Ab-Soul, Casey Veggies, and Domo Genesis.

Brown and Gibbs’ chemistry is undeniable, the pair showing-out for the second time in recent memory on “High,” another cloudy, kushed interpolation of Freda Payne’s “I Get High (On Your Memory).”

Perhaps the most pleasant takeaway from Piñata is the malleability of Freddie Gibbs. For a rapper whose style was once (and is still to a large degree) considered too niche for radio or major label investment, Gibbs displays his comfortability over various types of beats and aesthetics. Gibbs has developed the ability to make any kind of rap song, from star-studded cypher posse cuts (“Piñata”), to weed-smoking anthems (“High”), to honest introspection (“Broken”).

Creating infectious hooks is another of Gibbs strong suits, amalgamating melody with gutter, whether it’s over “Sh*tsville”s menacing arpeggios or the plodding loops of “Knicks.” On the latter, Gibbs cleverly uses “Knicks” as wordplay as well as a metaphor for how he “came up sellin’ nickel bags.”

Time will tell if Piñata ends up being the launching pad for Freddie Gibbs’ superstar. If nothing else, the album makes a robust case for cementing Gibbs as the best rapper rapping, while satisfying hip-hop’s lust for a contemporary gangster rap record worth writing home about.

Purchase Piñata on iTunes


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