There is a larger conversation to be had about why the selling of drugs and hip-hop are so intrinsically connected. But as long as we're pushing that discussion to the side, Madlib and Freddie Gibbs' tour-de-force, "Piñata", is an hour-long, cinematic drive through the drug-dealing landscapes of Gibbs' past, set to the Dilla-esque tunes of Madlib's beat machine.
I tend to scoff at the debates over authenticity when it comes to hip-hop's fascination with gang tales, but Gibb's timbre and unvarnished style of rhyming exude the kind of gritty, I-still-might-rob-you-if-I-had-the-chance panache that give him an unparalleled sound.
Madlib is at his best on this album, giving Gibbs his toughest set of melodies to keep up with and providing everything with an 80's blaxploitation varnish that fits just right. You often come across DJ-rapper pairings that leave you wondering if someone else might have sounded better. But on "Piñata", it's clear that these two were made for each other, combining to produce a sort of warped, poor-man's Tupac over Dilla (which is a compliment, not an insult).
The track that will get everyone talking is "Real", which is basically a 3 and a half minute undressing of all things Young Jeezy, his former boss and label mate. But the rest of the album is full of diamonds in the rough.
The features are all top notch, and there are just enough to give Gibbs some space to breath between tracks. Raekwon, Ab-Soul, Mac Miller and Scarface all throw their hat into the ring and provide noteworthy additions to the album.
This entire album is a must listen for anyone who is a fan of either artist, as it serves as the most thorough set of work either has produced. Gibbs is a true storyteller with above-average rhyme skill, and Madlib is a worthy descendant of legends like Pete Rock and Jay Dilla.
The Must Listens:
Deeper: This track features the kind of storytelling that makes Gibbs distinctive. His voice and general content choices would make you think he was the kind of rapper without any substance. But right off the bat he reminds you that telling tales is his bread and butter.
High ft. Danny Brown: From the title you can probably guess what this song is about. But it uses a great sample, and Danny Brown throws in a solid verse.
Harold's: Gibbs excels at the kind of advanced-level songwriting most rappers never even dare to approach, for fear that it will fly over their listeners heads. Using a local chicken joint as a jumping off point, he dives into a tale of another fable about a girl from his neighborhood. He deserves a lot of props for diversifying the characters within his stories.
Bomb ft. Raekwon: Another great beat from Madlib, reminiscent of something off of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. It's no surprise then that Raekwon jumps on the beat for a quick 16.
Shitsville: The best song on the album. Gibbs goes down his list of vices, showing that he isn't any different than the rest of us. It helps that Madlib gives him the best he has to offer with the melody.
"But I went back and forth with some work, went threw a few plugs
This white devil society dare a n**** to do drugs
And dare yo a** to deal 'em, distribute and conceal 'em
My n**** don't got no boats or no ports, how you think we get 'em?
Crack was black America’s cup of coffee in the beginning
When they creep up and you waking, you crackers can fight the feeling"
Real: The most blatant diss track I've heard in a while. Gibbs pretty much rips Jeezy a new one, taking him apart piece by piece with every story revealing his true character. It honestly says more about the facade rappers put up in relation to rap beefs than it does about Gibbs dislike of Jeezy.
Robes ft. Domo Genesis and Earl Sweatshirt: The beginning of the feature-heavy end of the album. All three verses are worth the price of admission, even the perennially underrated Domo.
"You ain't gotta like my work shit, respect my hustle
I was a solid-hearted mind before I had to grind, my swagger fine
I never had to pack my lines with plastic rhymes
Diamond in the rough, give it time, you'll find your light and shine
This little light of mine, these are our highest times"
Lakers ft. Ab-Soul and Polyester the Saint: The sample is what makes this song what it is. Madlib makes a living off of the 70s and 80s soul samples, but this one is a standout.
Knicks: The play on words, the coast-to-coast feeling of this track coming after Lakers, the back-in-the-day verses from Gibbs. It's all just too good to pass up.
Piñata ft. Domo Genesis, G-Wiz, Casey Veggies, Sulaman, Meechy Darko, Mac Miller: Leaving the best for last is something so rarely done that it's a bit jarring to come to the end of the album and hear this track. Comes in a close second to Shitsville as the best offering from the entire project. Has a Wu-tang, 7-guys-rapping-in-a-basement feel to it. Madlib gives them a solid bedrock beat to work over. Meechy Darko (of Flatbush Zombies) sounds like a weird stepchild of Gibbs and ODB. Every verse could stand on its own.