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Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, ‘Pinata’ [ALBUM REVIEW]

I almost got hit by a car as I was listening to the new Freddie Gibbs and Madlib album, ‘Piñata.’

It was on the second verse of the third track, ‘Deeper,’ and I was grinning at how carefree Gibbs sounds when rapping about a lost love. I wasn’t even looking where I was going because I was so enwrapped in the song, and then a cab brushed my pants and I realized that earth was almost a memory.

‘Piñata’ will do that to you. It isn’t an easy, breezy album like YG’s fantastic ‘My Krazy Life’ and it isn’t all hoes and purple aura like the funky new 100s tape, ‘IVRY.’ It’s blunted, face-in-your-cereal-bowl soul rap over samples so buttery you don’t even need toast. We should all kiss the ground upon which Gangsta Gibbs and Otis Jackson Jr. walk just for seeing this album through to release. Now we don’t need that Nas and Premier LP.

‘Baby Face Killa’ was Gibbs’ peak up to this point, be it through hooks (‘Money, Clothes, Hoes’), palatable production (‘Bout It Bout It’), or pure wow factor (‘BFK’). That album had a little something for everyone and saw Gibbs going just an inch out of his comfort zone to some success. ‘Piñata,’ on the other hand, takes no prisoners. If you don’t like Gibbs spilling bullets out of his mouth over mind-blowing beats, the saloon door is right this way. The album never compromises and that’s probably why rap heads are drooling over it.

A few highlights: ‘Knicks,’ where Gibbs defecates on the semi-pro basketball team while also chronicling his past dealings with tiny weed bags; ‘Broken,’ where Fred remembers his grandma scolding him before Scarface pistol whips listeners with blunt bars about survival; ‘Uno,’ where Gibbs strings together syllables over a dazzling sample; and ‘Shitsville,’ where he utters, “mother–k euthanasia, I’ll lace your food up with razors / make you gargle with salt water and excuse yourself from my table.”

Some inconvenient truths arise, though. The album doesn’t truly start hitting it’s stride until ‘Harold’s,’ although Danny Brown’s Ritalin-deficient verse on the preceding ‘High’ gives a nice alternative to Gibbs’ deadpan uzi delivery. ‘Harold’s’ serves tactile images like bread stuck to the bottom of the box to enhance the chicken shack visit until hot sauce fumes fill the back of your throat. From there, the album doesn’t stop smacking you in the face. ‘Thuggin’ and ‘Shame’ might have worn off on seasoned listeners, but we won’t see a better six-song stretch from ‘Real’ to ‘Knicks’ on another album for a long ass time.

Gibbs can also come off as monotone, or at least narrow in his choice of cadences. Nobody wants to nitpick what’s clearly a blessing, but Freddie has been locked onto one verbal rhythm for some time now. Ever since ‘Str8 Killa,’ he’s dropped solid projects that don’t get quite as much attention as they seem to warrant, and while he reached a new plateau with a palette of different sounds on ‘Baby Face Killa,’ he still hasn’t been able to loosen up his flow and let some air in.

That’s what Madlib is for. It’s not to take away from Gibbs when I say that Madlib is the reason this album is so fresh, but the fact that a no-frills MC like Freddie went Rambo over beats that will probably haunt Alchemist for years is what makes ‘Piñata’ such a historic event. The pairing brings out the best of both artists, like a jazz performance that equally highlights the piano fills and the sax solos. Madlib knows just the right notes to chop, just how strange the skits should be. If hip-hop nerds were Trekkies, ‘Piñata’ would be nothing but Klingon bars.

‘Real’ is arguably the centerpiece of the album. After a short beginning, ‘Lib switches the beat into a hazy cabaret of a beat, empty but sultry. Gibbs tears former colleague Young Jeezy limb from limb, evoking Ice Cube during the ‘No Vaseline’ days, and not just because he uses the word “mark.” ‘Real’ isn’t just a dope song – it’s downright disrespectful.

It’s the no-holds-barred approach on ‘Real’ that makes you realize Gibbs sounds like 50 Cent at certain points on ‘Piñata.’ Whether it’s the “gangster as everyman” portrayal on ‘Shitsville,’ the playful singing (TLC’s ‘Waterfalls, ‘Babyface’s ‘Two Occasions,’ and Jodeci’s ‘Come And Talk To Me), or the stretches of s–t talking on the interludes, Gibbs sounds like he’s filling the Queens rapper’s role in a completely outlandish way – over Loop Digga beats. Ain’t got s—t to do with this, but I just thought that I should mention the strange kinship. Curtis and Fred would probably bond over their hate for Rick Ross anyway. And did you catch those Lil’ Wayne jabs that Gibbs threw in?

Madlib is (hopefully) ubiquitous amongst rap heads of all ages by now, and while Gibbs skews toward the kids because he’s newer, ‘Piñata’ is going to introduce a lot of their fans to each other. No producer, with the exception of the incredible Block Beattaz and the heroic DJ Burn One, has made Gibbs sound this good in his entire career. Listening to ‘Piñata’ is so thrilling that by the time you hear Mac Miller talk about Emerson at the end of the album (no thanks), you don’t even have to be disappointed. You can just cut that s—t right off and still feel satisfied.

Blunts will be smoked, 40s will be guzzled, and words will be strewn over ‘Piñata.’ Some are even calling it the new ‘Madvillainy,’ but f—k that. This is the first and only [Cocaine] ‘Piñata.’ Just buy the album and enjoy it.

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