Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Piñata | Album Review | By Volume

What is this life, why do we strive? Fast on a wheel, too fast to feel. One day, my love, this life will slow. Sam Brookes - One Day

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib


At this point, Gibbs isn’t worried about album sales, but album purity.

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Author: on May 12, 2014
Madlib Invazion

It feels good saying this again: Freddie Gibbs looks to be completely on one in 2014. After a mix of label restraints and a justifiable inclination to be a little pissed at those restraints, Gibbs seemed a bit stressed the last couple of years. This didn’t really hinder the quantity, or flat out shit-hot quality of his music, but there was this effortlessness that seemed to pass in and out from track to track. Save his collaborations with Madlib, the EP-trio of Thuggin’, Shame and Deeper where golden lights on the horizon. And to stress again: Gibbs has never released a bad record, but these EPs bordered on repeat-until-your-speakers-break quality. Though I kind of hate to admit it, I felt this winning streak could be difficult to extend another year, especially for a full length. Thankfully I’m wrong a lot, and Piñata is unflinching, blisteringly, fiercely intelligent and unapologetic in its harshness.

Gibbs has styled Piñata as a “gangster Blaxploitation film on wax”, and while I’m sure it’s been mentioned in every damn analysis of the LP, it’s imperative to its success. “Thuggin’” alone is a song filled with lyrical jabs that can be cherry-picked as poignant summations of the United States’ thirty year failure with our racism-fueled War On Drugs. “Why the Feds worried ’bout me clocking on this corner? / When there’s politicians out here getting popped in Arizona”, Gibbs questions, illustrating societal constraints constructed to continue boxing in the marginalized as a source of “cheap” free labor and instrumental funding. And that’s just two bars. Though this is how Gibbs has always operated – calling his flow technically proficient is an insult; he’s lyrically versatile and venomous – the man could read a dictionary and it’d sound thought-provoking, attaching to beats like a symbiant.

About Madlib, though. He’s a kerosene compliment to Gibb’s usual flame. The collaboration creates a blaze, resulting in a collection of seventeen five-alarm fires in respect to the production. Lib continues to build a legacy with an incredible command of emotion, and ability to create diverse, engaging beats. He’s vastly talented in other venues, but that Madlib stamp upon a song/record/anything is still glowing and only seems to get brighter. “Lakers” is gigantic and celebratory as Gibbs boast his love for his L.A.-living. The aforementioned “Thuggin’” has an intense & unflinchingly jarring backbone. The Danny Brown-featuring “High” is delectably hazy, while the Raekwon-assisted “Bomb” is built upon a collection of wiry synth lines and serene arpeggios. Because of this skill, this pacing and parity in the aesthetics, Piñata’s sixty minutes blow by, and it’s difficult not to spend an extra half-hour repeating songs each listen. Best part though? It’s rarely a specific track in particular that hooks in. Piñata has so many gems, and any given listen you can find something different to latch onto.

At thirty-two, and with over a decade of the music industry under his belt, Gibbs is beginning to feel like a veteran. He’s not old hat by any means, but he is someone who can be counted on. At this point, you’ve a general idea what to expect, but Piñata doesn’t feel like some rehash, either. It may be the most assured and lively Gibbs has ever been on record. “Don’t give a fuck if I set a record or win awards / I’m just blessed to be out here living life / Giving these niggas hell, so records with everything I write / Shit got me wishing DMX had never hit the pipe / Pun ain’t never died and Big L was still here to bless the mic”, he confesses on the excellent “Uno”, an ode to his brand of emcee. It’s a profession Freddie feels is dying a slow and painful death, and though I don’t really disagree with him, I’m not as convinced that the brash, filthy and explosive (albeit incredibly personal and honest) emcee will ever die out. Not ones as eloquent and observant as Gibbs;  any times, as a genre or artistic movement fades into the past, purists struggle to keep the aesthetics alive, creating some of their best work with the dying embers. Piñata is one of those documents, not strictly of the past, but decidedly nostalgic, while also remaining extremely contemporary. Lyrically, the album could work just as easily in the 1960s, but comes all the way to the present. ““We’re not against rap, but we’re against those thugs” / Can’t be legit when every nigga in your click sold drugs”, he illustrates on “Thuggin’”, with Reverend Butts’ words sounding eerily modern-day. Gibbs himself has made it out of Gary, Indiana, to the presumably finer streets of LA – but that doesn’t mean people treat him any differently.

Fuck every rapper and his entourage / Fuck up the stage and blow dodi smoke on his bodyguards / Nothin’ but Cutlasses, Cadillac coupes in my garage / Make foreign bread, get some morning head on the Autobahn”, Gibbs says to set off his verse on the excellent “Robes”. The song, assisted by the increasingly indispensable Domo Genesis and Earl Sweatshirt, is a prime example of Gibb’s and Lib’s vet decision-making. Not unlike a Kanye, Mary J. Blige or Pharrell, I think Gibbs makes those he works with better. With Madlib, this goes without saying. But this ability to command and direct is expected of producers – especially one of Lib’s talent, and in this respect he delivers tenfold.

Gibbs, though? He can just pop in the booth, drop a fiery set of bars and save a song. He’s rarely the one coming out on top in regards to his collaborative tracks, though. Doesn’t this mean he’s kind of whack then? Not up to the task? A little shook, perhaps? Absolutely not. This is Freddie Gibbs, a dude who flips a switch: “Supplier” begins and doesn’t turn off until “Piñata”, the eight-minute epic of a closer, concludes. He’s sitting there, on the figurative sidelines, and he’s fouled out. Of course he gets heated. But that passion is now translated in the form of loud-as-fuck cheering and game-changing consultation from the outside looking in. I can imagine Gibbs flat out losing his shit as guest after guest kills it in the studio with him. Want to know why? Because Piñata will be better for it. At this point, Gibbs isn’t worried about album sales, but album purity. His collaboration with the like-minded Madlib has resulted in one exceptional record – scars and everything.

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