Sometimes it feels as if we’ve taken Freddie Gibbs’ career for granted. In the five-plus years since he’s been on radars, Gibbs has always gifted the listening masses at least one project per year, mainly in the form of mixtapes and collaborative EPs.
The sun rises, the year has 365 days, Gibbs raps. That’s just how it’s been with the Gary, Indiana native since what’s felt like the beginning of time. But keep in mind that we play his projects–and typically play them a lot–and then something else comes along and we vaunt that to “project of the year” status. To be fair, this isn’t because Freddie has the problem of making the same album like Rick Ross, but because he’s so f*cking malleable as an emcee that, hey, we forget. He’s just there and we expect him to be there and we expect him to make incredibly solid projects every time he barks into the mic.
Which makes his collaborative album with Madlib, Piñata, different. For arguably the first time, Freddie’s found the archetype template with the producer gonzo enough to bring out Gibbs’ best. Piñata assures itself that it will not just be a part of year-end discussions but it could end up ruining any idea that a discussion is necessary. The 17-track album plays like a blaxploitation flick mosaic, bubbling like a petri dish of soul samples and lush arrangements while Gibbs just spits–and really, there’s no other way to describe his rhyming at this point.
Think about Piñata as you did Danny Brown’s 2013 album, Old: comprised of two halves that make up the collective sound of the record. The first half–kicked off by the barebones, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx-esque “Scarface”–is where the brasher, rappity-rapping Gibbs makes his mark. “Deeper” and “Thuggin’,” two tracks that made the rounds as singles off prequel EPs, are where Gibbs is at his most cerebral, tackling multi-syllabic rhyme schemes like they’re blunt raps, and providing the kind of lip-turning imagery we expect from him: “Back on the bus used to finger-fuck her, singing Usher.”
The squirrel-y weed anthem “High” and the surprisingly sing-song “Harold’s” are brief detours before this first side ends at the Jeezy diss track “Real.” Fans could run off a string of memorable bars from the long-rumored cut, but Freddie punctuates the vitriol on “underneath the money you’s a fuckin’ mark,” leading the listener into the second half.
Soul samples and lite-jazz licks highlight this portion, as “Robes,” “Knicks,” and “Shame” linger around in listeners’ heads long after the next song plays. Since it’s a collaborative LP, Madlib takes center stage here, doing his signature crate-digging to unearth records that allow Freddie to flow, like he does recounting his tale of making it out to the West Coast on “Lakers,” and provide the album’s guests easy-riding palettes with which to paint their appearances.
Avid fans of Madlib will enjoy this half more than those who are indifferent to the Oxnard, Ca., producer, and this is where the faults with the album–although relatively small–will surface. The album’s long, and the scratchy, sampling sound will become monotonous for those who aren’t Stones Throw disciples.
The guest verses, outside Danny’s contribution to “High” and Scarface’s assured turn on “Broken,” also leave a lot to be desired; however, that’s not surprising since appearances from Domo Genesis, Earl Sweatshirt, Ab-Soul and the menage of emcees on the plodding “Piñata” seem more like ornaments for a Madlib beat than significant moments on the album’s run time. And really: “Piñata”–for all of its underground star power–should’ve just been an iTunes b-side or scrapped.
So Piñata‘s effect on listeners runs the gamut from solid to great, depending upon the listener. This is an ideal problem to have. The pair display a symbiotic relationship that picks up when the other grows stagnant–had enough of Gibbs’ hustling bars? Then Madlib will flip a deep-crate R&B record to switch the mood–continuing like this until its conclusion. Count Piñata in the same class as Madlib’s 2004 underground masterpiece Madvillainy, because this is one of those records that’s going to stick around awhile.