Freddie Gibbs latest collaboration with Madlib, in the words of my good friend Elie “Might be the most slept on album of 2014 thus far.” Now if you’re the casual hip-hop fan you might not be too familiar with Freddie Gibbs or Mablib, so let me give you a quick run down. Freddie Gibbs is the hardest rapper out of Gary, Indiana. Once a protégé of Jeezy but things went sour and well… they aren’t on the best of terms anymore. Mablib is one of the most prolific and critically acclaimed hip-hop producers of the past ten years (just check out his work with MF Doom and J.Dilla) but is also very selective about whom he works with and how much of his music he releases (He once joked that when he dies he wants all his unreleased music burned). This odd couple’s pairing came as a surprise to many, but after you take a listen to Gangsta Gibbs rhyme over Mablib’s soul and G-funk samples, you can’t deny how well structured this album is.
Listening to Piñata makes it clear that MadGibbs might be what gangsta rap has been lacking the past couple years. The fact that Mablib is the only producer on the album is such a plus and I wish artist would do that more often. The two bring out the best in each other. Madlib produces beats like Pac recorded music- just non-stop and relentlessly. Gibbs is one of the most versatile lyricists in the game, which is rare to come across in gangsta rap these days. Mablib has truly blessed Gibbs on this project considering that most of Gibb’s solo projects get criticized for a lack of focus or being all over the place. Piñata addresses all those critics and for the most part manages to stay on the same page. From the opening intro to track 17, it’s effortless in noticing these tracks were crafted just for Gibbs. Lets be clear here. Gibbs is a realist, and a straight to the point rapper and this is what separates him from the style over substance rappers that gangsta music has seen these days. From stories about his pops being a police officer despite both of their dislike for them on “Crooked”, his ode to LA with Ab-Soul on “Lakers” or his introspective song “Deeper” about his actions and contradictions, Fred is able to use his colorful vocabulary to explain how much more rugged he is than the rest of the much softer rappers and his voice and delivery demand that you take him very serious.
Madlib the Loop Digga brings his sampling A-game to craft a late night soundscape of mean-haunting beats that sound like they’ll beat you up and take your lunch money. He creates a musical karate dojo for Gibbs and on each beat it sounds like they are sparring. The better the beat the better the rhymes Gibbs has to serve each track. He manages to spin his street tales and “last real hustler in rap” statements into something that is hardly as glamourized as it is in vengeance and lament for his decision. Even going so far as to mention his place in the rap game and his frustration with some of what he’s witnessed on tracks such as “Thuggin”. The stand out and most talked about track on the project “Real”, which is clearly a jab at Young Jeezy. Gibbs gives the Snow Man the tongue lashing of his hip hop career and I highly doubt there will be a response especially considering that Jeezy has been mum throughout the entire fall out.
Gibbs has called this album “a gangster Blaxploitation film on wax,” and that summary is the best way to explain it. Every great film needs great co-stars, and Piñata doesn’t lack any. With Hip-hop immortals such as Raekwon on “Bomb” and Scarface dropping in for “Broken”, it’s an excellent blend of talent. The extremely energetic Danny Brown helps take “High” to different levels (the irony). Odd Future cohorts Earl Sweatshirt and Domo Genesis help bring us “Robes”, and the posse cut “Pinata” features Mac Miller, Domo Genesis and Casey Veggies (who does his best Bone-Thugs/Corey Gunz impersonation, on the heavy jazz sample).
Although the album comes close to flawless, the two stand out flaws of the album are gifts and curses for MadGibbs. Even though he can hold his own with the best, Gibbs’ features tend to steal the show from him and since Lib produced entirely every track on the album, the variation and tempo of the beats stay the same throughout. Mablib produces amazing beats with flawless loops, but it’s painfully obvious the mixing of the beats are louder than the vocals on some tracks and that kind of bothered me. Many might try to compare this album to the Madvillian project with MF Doom, but Doom and Gibbs are two very different MC’s and both great artists in their own right. What MadGibbs did is bring together two different hip-hop audiences to witness an unexpected match made in rap heaven. From tracks 1 to 17, the production, rhymes, skits (the blaxploitation dialogue and trailer snippets fit perfectly in between each track); all flow together like a well-oiled machine. One thing is for certain. They both are huge on staying independent and true to themselves and that’s something any true hip-hop purist has to feel.