The product of a street-hardened G from Indiana and a blunted beatsmith from Cali joining forces.
On paper, stone cold gangster Freddie Gibbs and alt-hop producer Madlib have little in common. But after releasing several highly enjoyable EPs beginning in 2011, it quickly became apparent that the duo were capable of vibing off one another. Four songs from those EPs show up on Piñata, and the rest of its seventeen songs fall in line with their smoked-out, sample-heavy sound, creating an insanely consistent album. Piñata is Madlib's best collaborative album since cult classic Madvillainy, and it might be Gibbs' best work yet.
Infused with dialog snippets from blaxploitation films, funky samples to match, and a random-as-fuck guest list (Domo Genesis and Scarface on back-to-back songs?), this album feels as off-the-cuff as it does brilliant, never sounding like it's trying that hard to achieve "oh shit" moments or sell tons of copies. Despite that, "oh shit" moments abound, and it might even sell better than ESGN, Gibbs' last album. Like many great hip-hop records (Bizarre Ride II, Doggystyle, Enter the Wu-Tang), Piñata is the sound of artists having fun in the studio, not being afraid to throw in TLC-spoofing interludes, hooks about fried chicken, and ganja talk galore.
In an uncharacteristic move, Gibbs focuses almost as much energy on being a comedian than on being an OG, throwing out lines like "I slipped on a banana peel and fell in that pussy," "still lyrically sharper than any short bus shawty," and a hilariously-sung kiss-off "I only think of you on two occasions, that's when I'm drunk and when I'm blazin' up". That's not to say the Gary, Indiana-bred MC isn't still hard as fuck - thug sermons, Jeezy disses and tales of moving weight are impossible to miss - but it seems like he knew the type of trap talk he recently unveiled on the Young Chop-produced single "Deuces" wouldn't gel as well with Madlib's less-menacing production.
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - "Real" (Young Jeezy Diss)
Speaking of the production, Madlib manages to keep his much-heralded weirdness reeled in for the most part. There are no appearances by his pitched-up alter ego Quasimoto, no real extended instrumental passages, and no songs as strange as "Shadows Of Tomorrow" on Piñata, but mind you, this is still very much the most avant-garde territory Gibbs has dipped into at this point in his career. The pair meet in the middle of their respective comfort zones, pushing each other to evolve while crafting an album that will appeal to both of their fanbases. Perfectly illustrative of this is "Thuggin'", an early single that basically sounds like a mashup of the most stereotypical Gibbs and Madlib joints - the rapping's all hard-talk and hustle, while the production is unorthodox but groovy. It was the first sign that MadGibbs might actually be a good idea, and not just another T-Wayne.
Then there's the guest list, which is varied as it is eye-catching, with two members of Odd Future, young emcees such as Mac Miller and Meechy Darko, old standard-bearers Raekwon and Scarface and wonderful weirdos Danny Brown and Ab-Soul all showing up for verses. Most of them appear on the last track, the marathon-length "Piñata," which may actually be the weakest track here. That's not to slight any of the verses, but it's the point where the album unravels from its prior tightness, with a three-minute-long outro of dialog samples and studio banter not helping its case either. Before that, every collaboration bangs, especially "Robes," an Odd Future party that boasts a slick soul sample and Piñata's funniest skit. Even in the presence of noted prodigy Earl Sweatshirt, Gibbs shines the brightest on the track, letting us know once again that this is his album.
Piñata will face inevitable comparisons to Madvillainy, as it's Madlib's most high-profile album-length collaboration since 2004. But they're immensely different albums, with the obvious gap between Gibbs and DOOM's respective styles, and a lack of a consistent concept on Piñata. In most people's minds, Madvillainy is an untouchable classic, and Piñata may not be that, but it's so far the most enjoyable hip-hop album of 2014, and probably as close as we'll ever get to a Madvillainy sequel.