Album Review: Piñata – Freddie Gibbs and Madlib

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After the first collaborative song between Freddie Gibbs and Madlib was released in 2009, it was apparent that the two artists were working closely together on a new project. And finally, in 2014, their joint album has been released. Combining Madlib’s smooth-sampled 70’s beats with Gibbs’ gruff flow the duo released their album to not much fanfare. Although the songs “Thuggin,” “Shame” and “Real” were all released previously to acclaim, not much buzz has grown around this album. But hopefully it will, as it is fantastic.

Coming off his last album E$GN, Gibbs was hungry to prove that its low sales were a fluke and that his break-up with CTE (Jeezy’s group/label) was justified. Continuing to do what gained him notoriety, Gibbs mixes his distinctive voice, flow and intricate lyrics over a variety of interesting beats. He seemingly alternates between describing street life, nostalgia, bragadocious lines and introspective thoughts about his life. This combination is evident especially on the song “Deeper.” Gibbs refers to tough times in the past. He describes how he was getting girls and selling drugs, but also dives into the thoughts and feelings he had concerning these things (his feelings towards these women, the fear that often came with selling drugs, etc.). We also see this pattern in “Knicks.” Over a slow-paced, waning beat, Gibbs describes watching Jordan and LeBron playing the Knicks and the different things that were happening in his life at the time.

Gibbs also stirs up controversy throughout the album, most notably in “Real.” Madlib combines two beats for this song, the first being a fast paced beat filled with bravado. Freddie describes what a real rapper/man is and the lessons he’s learned living in Gary, Indiana and difficulties with the rap industry. After a slight pause, the beat becomes slower and more melodic. This is where Gibbs goes directly for Jeezy’s jugular. His former boss has a history of issues with other rappers (Rick Ross, Gucci Mane) and, specifically, wronging Gibbs while signed under his label. There is no question who this verse is aimed at, and even plays off his moniker (Baby-Faced Killa) by calling himself the “Snowman Killa” (the Snowman being one of Jeezy’s nicknames).

Madlib’s beats cannot go unmentioned in this review. Heavily based in ‘70s soul samples, Madlib crafts beats that seem both contradictory and perfect for Gibbs’ gruff cadence. The nature of the majority of his beats make the total work easy to listen to and are a compliment to Gibbs’ lyrical prowess. The construction of his beats and songs is also noteworthy. Often times, such as in the songs “High” and “Shame,” Madlib ensures the listener honors the beauty of the sample by placing it at the forefront. In “High,” Madlib combines the lesser-known beginning of the heavily sampled song with its well known chorus, while in Shame he highlights the verse from the sampled song and speeds it up to a pace more comfortable for Gibbs’ flow. All of his beats, even the fast-paced ones, are smooth and interesting and are definitely a main component of what makes this album great.

Gibbs’ flow and lyrical ideals, paired with Madlib’s beats, make for a great hip-hop collaboration.  Not to mention the tactful movie sound-bites, this album is enjoyable to listen to both in sequential order and on shuffle and is definitely not something to overlook. I would name this the current album of the year and I am interested to see what works will top it throughout the year.

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