For MC/producer duos to work, there is essentially only one thing required: individuality. There’ve been many that have surfaced over the years, not to mention the sky-rocketing in those rates due to the current internet epidemic and the ever-inspired generation standing behind it. A few come to mind from recent memory: there’s Death Grips, the brutal hardcore hip-hop duo feat. Zach Hill on a 3-piece drum kit at times, who seek to challenge and provide an outlet for their audiences hidden emotions; more recently there has been the EDM/hip-hop mixologists such as Vic Mensa’s feature freestyle on Disclosure’s “When A Fire Starts To Burn” (not to mention the tour they did together) and Bishop Nehru’s “You Stressin'”, lest we forget Joey Bada$$’s heavy usage and perhaps even reliance of J Dilla’s lush and legendary sounds in his tracks. But Madlib has been in this very scene longer than most, spending much of his career somewhat in Jay Dee’s shadow. Champion Sound, the 2003 “Jaylib” collaboration, had the two meshing their talents and visions in sublime, classic sample use. Where J Dilla succeeded as an MC-less producer, Madlib has found a medium in which he can display his individualistic and unique beats in a modern way where they truly shine; this window being his newest project with the one and only Freddie Gibbs.
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Piñata has apparently been in the works for quite awhile now, years actually. Post-arrival, things seem obvious as to why the setbacks. Standing at a fully loaded 17 tracks, the project is elaborate and repels static; a prime example of utilization of the MC/producer duo. Gibbs presentation and lyricism are both relentless and matter-of-fact. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s a Hemingway fan. Piñata has Gangsta Gibbs at his most direct, consistently flowing at the matched pace that is Madlib’s sprinting production style. Like Dilla, Madlib’s drum loops and vocal samples last about as long as an eight-year-old’s sour patch kids. But like such candies, each track lasts only as long as it needs to; gets in, fulfills its purpose, and vanishes without a final word as the next juicy, succulent, high-in-fructose powerhouse vibe sets in to repeat the due process.
Beautiful bass and string loops surround Gibbs low and leave-no-room-for-breaths flow in track three “Deeper” in which our MC partners his Indiana rapping style with lyrics of vulnerability. Straightforward and most importantly, confrontational, he calls out all the shit he sees as an injustice in his day to day. Clearly not sweating the small stuff, the next two tracks “High” and “Harold’s” paint one fucking colorful picture (the first with Detroit native Danny Brown who bounces up and down the track with that familiar toothless grin), and were most likely made to be listened to as you drive down the pacific coast highway in your convertible with the top down. Throughout the project, the only line Gibbs seems to repeat is “slammin”, every following line just pouring out of his mouth, like an ocean of water that could never be contained if even attempted.
This contrary and well-oiled partnership between our project leaders leaves plenty of room for west-coast-stationed (and Detroit) rappers to play around with. See the sunbathed “Robes” with OF’s Domo Genesis and Earl Sweatshirt, or the classically fueled “Lakers” with Ab-Soul and Polyester the Saint, or even the title track, which has enough rappers to play a game of basketball with two subs. Although the album proves lengthy, it’s filled with enough punches to avoid stagnancy almost entirely. Prepare for the “Madgibb” fan fare, as the two remain in control of the hip-hop genre’s progressive duo movement. The relationship between the man behind the curtain and the man with the microphone has been treated with respect for the most part over the years, both sides equally essential to the partnership. However, an album that practices this useful tactic from start to finish, like Gibbs and Madlib do here and well, proves that this relationship’s potential may have been underestimated by us all: Piñata is way too easy to ride with.
Originally titled Cocaine Piñata last year, Freddie Gibbs sought after a more, what seemed to him, appropriate amount of openness for his lyrical directions upon the albums finish. He explained to HipHopDX in an interview almost a year ago the reasoning behind the upcoming LP’s title. He went on to explain how he had a dream where his child had a birthday party once, and at the party his child and friends defeated the playful birthday piñata only to find nothing but blow inside, then proceeded to play in it. Dropping the white girl name in the title, that same raw, emotive word spill remains easily represented throughout the LP. There is a strange sense of familiar from cover to cover on Piñata, but that feeling of familiar is shoved violently into fear when you realize the you as the listener, might as well be playing in the cocaine piñata yourself, which I’m fairly certain is the whole point.
8.5 – Zilla