Five years ago, Gary, Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs (A.K.A. Gangsta Gibbs) and producer Madlib dropped Pinata, a west coast, gangster hip hop album that was hailed as a modern classic by many upon release.
Before the release of Pinata, Madlib had collaborated with a rapper of this caliber for an entire album only once before- the now-legendary Madvilliany with the one and only supervillain MF Doom in 2004. The beats and samples that are laced throughout Madvilliany have a cartoonish, oddball character to them that fits perfectly with Doom’s poetic, raw, eclectic, spontaneous, and free-associative rhymes and verses. It is an album chock-full of character, where both artists bring their all to the table and the collaboration works out perfectly. Despite Madlib being one of the most forward-thinking and acclaimed hip hop producers of all-time, no one really thought that he would ever put out another collaborative project that rivaled Madvilliany.
When Pinata was announced, however, the pairing of Freddie Gibbs and Madlib gave hip hop fans a glimmer of hope that timeless magic could be struck once again. Hip hop fans knew the album wouldn’t be the unorthodox, underground classic that was Madvilliany, but in a sense they didn’t want it to be. Considering Gangsta Gibbs and his grimy qualities paired with the luscious, boom-bap beats of Madlib, there was endless potential in what Pinata could deliver. Lucky enough for rap fans everywhere, these guys exceeded expectations and then some.
From the very first track, it is obvious that Gibbs took his time and handpicked every beat to fit the sinister vibe that the pair wanted to achieve with this album. Madlib’s beats create an atmosphere that fits perfectly with the energy of Freddie Gibbs, with everything down to the interludes adding to the gangster vibe of Pinata. Take the horns that carry the beat on “Deeper,” the first true gem on Piñata’s tracklist. The minute the horns come on, the beat is set wholly apart from the other songs on the album. Gibbs rides the beat perfectly while spinning a tale about a relationship with a woman who might also be his baby mama. Just as the beats on Pinata fit the energy and flow that Gibbs brings to each track, Gibbs’ technical and lyrical abilities do not fail to do any of the stellar instrumentals justice. He has a unique flow on every track, and rides every beat switch and atypical sound that Madlib throws at him.
The soulful and pimping style of the production paired with Gibbs flow creates a contemporary album that sounds like a time capsule from a bygone era. Tracks like “Robes” and “Knicks” feature production that brings a vibe reminiscent of Stevie Wonder or Curtis Mayfield vibe to them, while Gibbs comes through with a cold and raunchy delivery that adds some extra flair. The combination of the beats and bars on Pinata makes you feel like you are listening to the soundtrack of a gangster Blaxploitation film from the 1970s, and a damn good one at that.
Piñata wouldn’t be Piñata without “Thuggin’,” the paramount track that is placed right in the middle of the tracklist and truly embodies all of what Piñata has to offer. The beat is merciless wonder, with its twinkling synths and rattling high hats helping to set the flow for Gibbs as he weaves a true gangster classic. He brings sinister bars throughout the entire track, with some unforgettable lines like, “Selling you the science of the street rap/Every motherfuckin’ show I do is off the meat rack/I done been to jail and did my best not to repeat that/I’m tryna feed my family/Give a fuck about your feedback/Critically acclaimed but that shit don’t mean a thang.” “Thuggin’” might showcase one of the dirtiest hip-hop beats of the 2010’s, along with one of Gibb’s toughest flows ever. If there was one track that really encapsulates all that Freddie and Madlib bring on Pinata, it’s “Thuggin’.” It delivers a serious punch halfway through the album, giving listeners exactly what they came for and proving how exceptional Freddie and Madlib are when put together.
(Courtesy of Scorepress)
Not only do Gibbs and Madlib bring it on their own, but they also bring along an assortment of killer features throughout to build out their gangster paradise. Name a famous rapper, old head or modern spitter, and they most likely found a way to make an appearance on this album, all placed so that they fit impeccably. Take “High” for instance, the true stoner’s anthem, in the spirit of “America’s Most Blunted” off of Madvillainy. On this track, Gibbs decides to flow alongside none other than Danny Brown, the modern day Pablo Escobar of frenetic drug debauchery, to drop lines like, “Dope fiend tripping cause he just copped a nick/But he say he can’t find it, but it’s right in his pocket”. Who better to bring on the track than the man who wrote “Blunt after Blunt”? This is just the first of many show-stopping features on the album.
Raekwon and Scarface, true hip hop veterans from the 90’s, also show up on Pinata to drop some classic guest verses. Gibbs undoubtedly looked up to these two and would not be the same rapper without these artists who came before him. He brings them onto tracks that fit them perfectly, in “Bomb” with Raekwon and “Broken” with Scarface. On “Broken”, Scarface comes with some true hustler lyrics, starting his verse saying, “If money was the root to what evil is/Is it mandatory for me to live?/I hustle harder than the next dude/Remember everybody’s out to get you.” Scarface and Gibbs are a perfect package, and Madlib doesn’t disappoint with the ominous and forlorn beat accompanying this track.
Another great feature artist to make it onto Pinata is BJ the Chicago Kid on “Shame.” His sweet serenading on the hook couldn’t have been a better choice for the album’s players anthem, in which Gibbs reminds his day one girls that they just can’t ever seem to get enough. The slow introduction of the beat and the female vocals to start the track off is great, and when the beat finally drops with the strings, you know Gibbs is going to bring a nasty flow. The female vocals sampled in the background add a beautiful extra layer that the track simply wouldn’t be the same without. BJ the Chicago Kid has a phenomenal voice, and Gibbs drops the braggadocious flow and bars that you would expect for a track like this.
It’s impossible to leave out the closing track, “Pinata,” which is a posse cut chock-full of guests such as Domo Genesis, Casey Veggies, Meechy Darko, and Mac Miller. This might be my least favorite track on the album, mainly due to it being a bit all over the place and none of the featured artists bringing a true standout verse, but that doesn’t still have a lot to offer. Freddie probably has the best verse here with the second set of bars, but it pretty much goes downhill from there with each of the guests afterwards. Mac Miller (who we hope is resting in peace) does have some corny bars in his spot at the tail end of the album, but his verse is still better than most of the other guests on this track. Frequent Pinata listeners will never forget bars like “Reading Emerson novels/Eating some Belgian waffles,” and the closing refrain of “O’Doyle Rules,” a wonderful ode to Billy Madison- a charming, if not somewhat head-scratching way for Mac to bring this masterfully crafted, cinematic album to a close.
Pinata is not an album that has some deep, conceptual message that requires repeated listens to decode and unravel. Rather, Pinata is the product of two artists at the peak of their abilities. Madlib pulls out some of his most enjoyable, soulful beats this side of Madvillainy. Freddie Gibbs taking on the role of braggadocious sinner who made it, painting a vibrant and often violent picture of his come up as a dope dealer. This is a career defining album for both artists, but especially Freddie Gibbs, who was finally able to deliver the classic that his great potential had been building towards for over half a decade.
It’s hard to believe that it has already been five years since Pinata was released, as it still sounds just as fresh as it did the day it dropped. Luckily for hip hop fans though, despite the incredible difficulty of following up such a masterpiece, the story of Freddie and Madlib together is not yet over. The duo is back at it as we speak, on the verge of dropping Bandana, a sequel to Pinata. Bandana has been teased and talked about for almost three years now, ever since Madlib and Gibbs announced that they would be working together again in 2016. It has been quite the long wait, and a lot has happened in the interim: Gibbs went to jail in Vienna for sexual assault charges (before eventually being acquitted), Madlib dropped at album with MED and Blu, and Gibbs, Curren$y, and The Alchemist teamed up to give the world Fetti last year. Now the wait seems to be finally over though, as multiple singles have been released, and a June 28th, 2019 release date for Bandana officially announced. The entire hip hop community can only wait with bated breath and do its best to prepare for its impending impact- if the singles are any indication, we’re about to get another modern classic with Bandana, courtesy of MadGibbs.