Released a few months ago, on March 18, 2014, ‘Pinata‘ is a rap album created by the unusual pairing of rapper Freddie Gibbs and producer Otis Jackson Jr. (a.k.a Madlib). Freddie Gibbs, a seasoned rapper known for his aggressive gangster rap, while Madlib, a legendary hip-hop producer who has made a career out of his out-of-the-ordinary and unique beats, would seem to many as an unlikely duo. For myself, it was definitely a surprise to see these two artists coming together to create a 21 song album, and as a first impression, I was a bit skeptical. Yet, after getting a few tracks deep into the album, especially after listening to ‘Shitsville’, I realized that there was definitely a reason that these two decided to pair together. The intensity and natural flow Gibbs possesses and the particular approach of Madlib’s production meshed together perfectly on the album. After listening to the album as a whole, I discovered that ‘Pinata’ isn’t another, of many, generic gangster rap album currently filling the rap scene – it’s more. It’s a fresh take on what many believe to be a dying genre of music overwhelmed with mindless and uninteresting tracks and artists. With overrated rap artists such as 2 Chainz, Waka Flocka, Gucci Mane, A$AP Ferg, and several others, diluting the rap scene with regurgitated beats, unoriginal lyrics, and weak flow, it’s refreshing to hear a couple of veteran artists coming together and remind listeners on what real rap is all about. ‘Pinata’, alongside a few other recently released albums (i.e. ‘Run the Jewels’, ‘G.O.O.D. Kid Mad City’, and ‘My Name is My Name’), has brought back a new edge to the rap scene, which I hope is a trend that won’t stop anytime soon.
The Album Structure & Some Cons
The album is organized in a Freddie Gibbs sandwich. The first half of the album and the last four songs are pretty much just Gibbs on the mic, while in the middle, guest artists such as Domo Genesis, Earl Sweatshirt, Mac Miller, Ab-Soul, and others, drop a few verses. Although 12-14 tracks on a rap album without any feature artist is quite high, on a 21 song track-list, it ends up working out well. With that said, besides the title track, it is simple to tell that Gibbs is the main highlight of every song on the album. Through-out the album, you’ll find that Gibbs out-shines the others, and besides a few verses, such as Danny Brown’s in ‘High’ and Raekwon’s in ‘Bombs’, the guest rappers didn’t really add that much to the album. I found myself continuously going back to songs like ‘Shitsville’, ‘Thuggin’, ‘Deep’ , ‘Uno’, and ‘Shame’, but not going back to artist-heavy songs like ‘Lakers’ (Ft. Ab-Soul & Polyester the Saint) or ‘Pinata’ (Ft. a bunch of guys). To me, it sounds like Madlib’s unorthodox production caught-up a few of the rappers; artists like Domo Genesis, Ab-Soul, and Mac Miller (especially Mac Miller), seemed a little off and awkward at times. Still though, with 21 tracks, the guest artists were definitely a necessity. On lengthy rap albums such as ‘Pinata’, without its fair share of guests, it would most likely face the risk of repetition. Although this album managed to dodge that bullet for the most part, there are times in which repetitiveness is a bit of an issue. For example, I found songs ‘Harold’s’ and ‘Knicks’ to be very similar, and sadly, both were underwhelming in comparison to the other solo Gibbs tracks.
Madlib, Mad Props
Without a doubt, the album would not be as good as it is without Madlib. The production on this album is spot-on and balances perfectly between old-school and new-school sounds and vibes. He manages to maintain the consistent ‘hard rap’ theme throughout the whole album, while making almost every track stand out on their own all for different reasons. I personally think that nearly everything Madlib touches turns to gold, and it has been that way throughout his career. ‘Pinata’ is just another example of his ‘Midas Touch’, as beats and samples on songs such as ‘Uno’ and ‘Scarface’ were some of the freshest production that I’ve heard for a while. Without a question, there is no other as good as Madlib when it comes to crafting music to fit the talents of a particular rapper; he understands how far a rapper’s abilities can extend, and produces music to ensure that that point is reached. It is largely for this reason that this album has propelled from being just ‘good’ to being one of the best of the 2010’s. Keep doing your thing, Madlib.
Gibbs Killed It
Now, although Gibbs got a lot of help from Madlib, a person needs to give respect where respect is due, and Gibbs definitely showed up on ‘Pinata’. Although I’m not a frequent Gibbs listener, I was definitely feeling the Gibbs hype after this album. Everything Madlib threw at him, every curve-ball, Gibbs took it and spat a flow and rhyme over it that could only come from someone who carries a tremendous amount of natural talent and experience. He has an intensity to his tone that is so raw, and when he gets going on some of these songs, especially on ‘Real’, you can feel the tremendous amount of emotion, focus, and intensity that Gibbs puts into his music. Tracks that are hard and fast is when Gibbs is at his best, yet, ones that are slower, are probably where he was at his worst. Not saying he is bad with a slower beat, but he is a lot better in those tracks that hit hard and force him to enter a different kind of zone. Luckily, most tracks on ‘Pinata’ were hard-hitting, and Gibbs was able to rap in his best form. Nonetheless, it would be tough to find a rapper that could’ve done as good of a job as Gibbs on this album. The only rappers that come to mind, who are currently active in the rap scene and would be able to put up a good fight, would be Killer Mike, Pusha T, or Mick Jenkins, but even so, I doubt that they would bring the same amount of emotion and focus that Gibbs brought.
Although there are a few minor faults, such as the lack of benefit from featured artists and moments of repetition, it’s quite difficult to find any major flaws with ‘Pinata’. Gibbs and Madlib work so flawlessly together, which is something I never expected before I listened to the album. It’s an album that young, hyped-up, rising rap musicians should strive to create, as it is a fresh, original, top-quality, and intense record that aims to be on its own level, separating itself from the mediocrity and mindlessness that currently fills the rap scene. I believe, as Freddie Gibbs said himself, that “there’s nothing currently out there like what we’ve created with Pinata, it stands on its own, and has etched us into the history books;” a bold statement, but true in its own right.
Anyone who is remotely into rap or Madlib’s work, I advise you to check out this album; I guarantee that you will find at least a couple gems.