Friday, March 28, 2014

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Pinãta Review

The best way to explain Pinãta to an intrigued eye would be to quote the emcee that graces over the 17 tracks himself. Freddie Gibbs, born in a ghetto in Gary, Indiana, stated in a press release that Pinãta is "a gangster Blaxploitation film on wax." To those that have heard his collaboration with the beat conductor Madlib will see the overwhelming similarities to that bold claim. Made over the course of three non-consecutive years, Pinãta successfully merges two sub-sections of popular Hip-Hop lore; the struggling street life verses sewn together by Gibbs and obscure, jazz-infused crate-digging produced by Madlib. While the final product may not be one to ooze out of speakers for years to come, or incite feverous debate on message boards, what MadGibbs conjured up is an exciting new take on two separate sides of the rap equation, melding alternative with gangster, abstract with concrete, to form a dirty collage of two different minds fusing into one.

While the product itself is very much defined by the combination at the heart of it we would be remiss without speaking directly to the summation of its parts. Madlib, known extensively throughout the Hip-Hop community for his other-worldly oddball underground masterpiece Madvillainy, with former backpack king MF DOOM, shines through again with an assortment of beats comprised in similar fashion to the highly-touted album. The distinct change however, which shows off the producer’s talents even further, doesn’t come off because of a different voice adorning them, but instead the story that lies at the heart of both. Where Madvillainy foretold the coming villains through various comic book-inspired interludes, samples, and sounds, Pinãta equates the same repertoire to the 1970’s-era Blaxploitation films that guided the transformations in the ghettos across America. Littered throughout nearly every single song, including its representation as the opening and closing, are samples taken directly out of the films the album intends on replicating. Skits in Hip-Hop albums have a notoriously bad reputation surrounding them, but here they add three-dimensional layers to the already grimy, gritty and downright dirty feel the album, and Gibbs specifically, has.

Unfortunately, while the duo succeeded in bridging the gap between two sides of the same coin, it only came to fruition through regressions of the eccentric producer’s largely varying backdrops. Don’t get me wrong, the production is very much in the typical jazz-influenced, unorthodox instrumentation that Madlib is known for, but many of these beats seem to be toned down for the sake of the hard-nosed gangster rapper that spills over them. Rightfully so too, any further pushing to the unconventional would have caused hindrances on the project as a whole. The result tends to drawl into boredom as some of Madlib’s most uninspired beats encompass the project. Shitsville, Shame, and the closing title track do the producer justice and stand out as shining beacons to the otherwise similar stylistic approach the rest of the album employs. None of the beats are bad, or uninviting, just a step-down from what we’ve come to expect from the legendary producer. Unrealistically comparing this palette to Madvillainy shows the discrepancies even more, acting as subdued efforts to compensate for a more direct, by-the-books rapper.   

That rapper, Freddie Gibbs, however flourishes on my of these beats, successfully showing off his ability to transform and broaden his range. One of the more noticeable outcomes of this pairing is the immediately distinguishable altering of content Gibbs shows off. From track 3, Deeper, where Gibbs harps over the loss of a girl he once loved, to Harold’s, where he hilariously recounts the order being placed at his favorite burger joint, Gibbs’ diversity showcased here would never be represented on any of his other works, due in large part to the production focused throughout Pinãta. This also comes off as some of his most deliberate, creative, and consistent performance thus far in his career, with nearly every song standing as a testament to his work and character. And where he’s not flexing his imaginative side he’s pummeling onwards, telling gritty, teeth-churning narratives of prototypical gang life and struggle. Not nearly as reliable however are the vocal features complimenting Gibbs throughout the record. In fact, I’d say it’s the most polarizing aspect to an otherwise dependable album. Where there’s a Domo Genesis tearing up two separate verses on his quest to gain recognition as the hardest featured guest in the game on Robes and Pinãta, there’s an Ab-Soul attempting to accomplish the opposite, it seems, turning in yet another poor verse of simplistic rhymes, lacking any depth or fortitude off Lakers. Danny Brown joins the former, adding his characteristic style to High in delightful fashion, as Scarface joins the latter, developing one of the most dull, insipid verses of the year thus far on Broken, a fitting title. 

Which brings me to my final problem about Pinãta, that being the pacing and length. Clocking in at just over an hour with 17 tracks, the duration at which the album plays overstays its welcome quite a bit, especially with the lack of alteration throughout. While the skits do cut down on the time considerably the lasting effect is an elongated album that, by its second half has already been worn out. Many would point to Madvillainy once again as the proper way to conduct an album in excess of 17 tracks, that being in short snippets, and in constant flux. DOOM appears on just 15 of the 22 tracks. The intro, three killer instrumentals, a Quasimoto (Madlib’s rapping alias) track, a Wildchild track, and a Stacy Epps track fill out the remaining whole. Here, on Pinãta, Freddie Gibbs resorts to rapping on nearly every track, complimented strongly towards the finish line by a litany of guests. There isn’t much imagination to the record, not shocking considering the star, but unfortunate considering his sidekick.

Overall however, Pinãta presents an interesting shift in Hip-Hop. Despite the shortcomings that exist on the record, the album, and mainly the pairing that brought its existence into being, could potentially mark a larger swing in the community surrounding the genre. Madvillainy was predictable, DOOM and Madlib, two strange artists undoubtedly bound to each other since their inceptions in the game. MadGibbs however, was not. In the early 90’s it would be unheard of to hear Tupac preaching on production from Q-Tip. Now, thanks to Pinãta, it may become more acceptable to see rappers from two distinct subgenres entangle and mix in hopes of seeing a uniquely satisfying outcome. Down the road, Pinata may take up a different standing if these pairings continue to persist, standing tall as the introduction to such inventive measures. For now however, it remains a conceptually vivid album with a unique angle whose appreciation is best heard in the diversity of the two artists, but its failures exist as means to combine said two artists and the restrictions that such a price must entail. 


  1. First, if this is a step down for Madlib, I need you to recommend an album of his that is better production-wise. (Genuinely, I would appreciate that. I've only listened to this and Madvillainy.)

    Second, is Freddie Gibbs really a strength of Piñata? From what you're saying, catering to Gibbs hinders Madlib. I don’t think that’s a good trade. Gibbs' rapping is just… boring. His delivery is the always the same. His flow is as repetitive and by-the-books as his gangster shtick. Gibbs’ shining moments come when he switches to unusual topics like on “Harold’s”, but those instances are pretty rare. I think the production and skits save the album. They grant it personality (along with the hit-or-miss features) and make it easy on the ears.

    1. This was written a few years back so I may have forgotten my reasoning for saying it was one of Madlib's weaker works. I know Madvillainy was definitely my point of reference there, as on that LP he was given free reign to be more creative.

      As far as Gibbs is concerned, I feel his rapping's at his best primarily, as you said, cause the production makes him interesting. Like you, my favorite tracks are those which he gets away from his typical style. He seems more energized than his other works, like he's more into it.