Freddie Gibbs and Madlib: “Pi?nata” Album Review

Kevin Costello

“OMG, another Madlib collaboration!” screamed backpackers from Seattle to Williamsburg upon first hearing “Pi?nata,” the seemingly unlikely collaboration between the legendary LA-based underground producer Madlib and Gary, Indiana’s resident Gangsta Rap phenom Freddie Gibbs. Whenever underground-savy Hip Hop heads of any sort hear the words “Madlib collaboration,” first thoughts almost always center around “Madvillainy,” the iconic project Madlib released with MF DOOM back in 2004. “Madvillainy” has become an essential underground Hip Hop album that continues to draw praise from music critics as well as those kinds of people who like to collect vinyl and read Pitchfork. Madlib’s thick, obscure beats, DOOM’s complex lyrics and the album’s structural unorthodoxy made “Madvillainy” a true game-changer, influencing everyone from Earl Sweatshirt to Danny Brown.

Now, for anyone who hoped that “Pi?nata” would sound anything at all like “Madvillainy,” I’ve got bad news. Freddie Gibbs, for those of you uneducated, bears no lyrical or stylistic resemblance to DOOM. Gibbs is less complex, more direct and has a more orthodox flow. Anyone who’s listened to literally any track in his discography should be able to deduce that much. Fortunately, though, Madlib is an incredibly diverse producer, with the uncanny ability to tailor a set of beats to fit the musical style of seemingly any emcee. DOOM, for example, epitomizes obscure, experimental Hip Hop.

The album’s first musical track, “Scarface,” provides a solid lyrical synopsis of quintessential Freddie Gibbs. Over an eerie yet smooth instrumental incorporating sirens, guitar rifts and 808 drums, Gibbs paints a pretty direct picture of crime and chaos, referencing incarcerated affiliates, payback by way of gunfire and narcotics trade. It also goes without saying that his voice becomes yet another instrument in Madlib’s symphony of gutter genius. Now, while “Scarface” would be an interesting introduction to any Freddie Gibbs project, some of the better tracks involve a venture into Gibbs’ more private thoughts and emotions.

Perhaps the best example is the next track, “Deeper,” which details with a good deal of vulnerability Gibbs’ past

relationship with a women who has moved on to a more mature and stable man. Love, especially in a romantic context, is traditionally labeled as taboo in the Gangsta Rap subgenre, as it could be linked to mental weakness. On “Pi?nata,” however, Gibbs seems to have no qualms about maintaining that the most calloused criminal can be every bit as emotional and vulnerable as an R&B singer without any blow to his masculinity. These tracks represent not only how dangerous Gibbs’ flow can sound, especially over the right production, but also how his persona, which might at first seem one-dimensional, can be

applicable to so many different subject matters.

In addition to the project’s varying concepts, Gibbs demonstrates on the project’s grand finale, the title track, his ability to lyrically spazz with some of the underground biggest names, from Domo Genesis to Casey Veggies. The best verse on this posse cut goes to Meechy Darko of the Flatbush Zombies, who plays the role of the violent, crazed misfit perfectly. One might go so far as to call “Pi?nata” the 1Train of 2014. Oh, and the beat is freakin’ insane.

Simply, you should buy this album, regardless of your prior exposure to Madlib or Gibbs. The beats are interesting yet accessible. The subject matter is cohesive yet diverse, and Gibbs does some of his best rapping to date. It’s not an album you need to be a Hip Hop head to love, either. It’s just 17 tracks of sonic goodness.

Contact Kevin Costello at [email protected].