You already know what it is; Madlib’s beats are second to none, and take in an eclectic array of influence with a worldly musical knowledge that has only grown in both quality and scope since his days producing for Lootpack. Freddie Gibbs brings the street to the booth with such a level of realism you can almost hear sirens and gunfire every time he speaks. Since they dropped Thuggin’ back in 2011, the somewhat unlikely pairing of the reclusive music obsessive and his street-smart counterpart has brought about a slew of certified bangers. Gibbs has switched up his flow to spit some more adventurous verses over the Beat Konducta’s challenging arrangements, and although his content hasn’t quite made the leap his delivery has, he still blesses each immaculate track with ease, leaving no doubt that the pair’s début full length is essential listening.
After a typically eclectic intro, Madlib’s dark, bass-driven funk goads Gibbs to unload lyrical shots on Scarface; as he handily instructs you on the best way to duct tape a man’s face as sirens scream in the background. The smoother side of the Loop Digga’s production accents Freddie’s passages to perfection on Deeper, with the glossier soundscape bringing out both character’s charisma with full effect. High’s mellow strains elevate this obligatory herb dedication to cloud level, as Gibbs fires off lines furiously before Danny Brown spills his smoke-swilled swagger all over the track with an inebriated verse; and Harold’s extends the air of calm as the words and loops lean back into a cool groove, and Piñata begins to find it’s feet.
Bomb showcases some more skill from the Gary, Indiana rapper as he drags his words into each other with a buttery flow while still annunciating clearly. When Freddie Gibbs is on point there’s no other contemporary gangsta rapper that can touch him, and although he’s started another verse with ‘slammin’, he could begin every bar that way and still sound dope every time. The production gleams with Madlib’s characteristically choice chops as Raekwon’s verse eases it’s way onto the song with an elegance that affirms his don status. Unsurprisingly, the Chef still pens immaculate lines; lacing the track with a silken stanza that echoes the lavish styles he delivered on his overlooked Shaolin vs Wu Tang & Unexpected Victory releases back in 2011. After a phone-recorded live version did the rounds on youtube, Shitsville fulfils it’s crowd pleasing potential with an upbeat crime saga that ticks all the right boxes, but ultimately comes off too hectic after the calm the previous tunes established.
Thuggin’ deserves every one of it’s two million views. Any video that starts with a dude in a leather Scarface jacket getting jacked can only get more G’d up from there; which it does. Gibbs flows on fine form, riding the thin line between reciting rugged raps and straight-up threatening people over instrumentals; ‘This liquor got me lurkin’ where you living in the night time, 59fifty to the left but I’m in my right mind.’ Real begins slowly then grows into another album highlight, the laid-back beat bubbling away under bars peppered with aggression, demonstrating why the pairing on Piñata works so well; with Gibbs setting his lyrical crosshairs on CTE boss and former friend Jeezy with a frank honesty that makes this diss track much more than just a vehicle for insults. Uno sees Madlib continuing on unbelievable form, selecting only the finest rhythms from his ever-expanding arsenal of instrumentals; this one in particular bustling with ill loops that would escape the untrained ear of the basement beatmaker. The chorus hook is one of Freddie’s catchiest so far, and his outright baiting of Lil Wayne is just another example of his unwavering self-confidence.
Earl Sweatshirt dominates the dulcet melodies on Robes, as Gibbs steps up the levels once again, singing a lick then baring his light-hearted side in the skit that pre-empts Broken’s serene strings; which not only stands out for the distant bells that ripple over Madlib’s chilled melodies, but sees the duo seizing the golden opportunity to unite Gibbs with one of his biggest inspirations, Scarface; who’s legendary voice still sounds as massive as it did on Hand Of The Dead Body. Lakers kicks back and lights one up to pay heartfelt homage to the team’s hometown; finding Ab-Soul and Polyester The Saint both bringing heaps of steez, and the man also known as Otis Jackson Jr laying down another peerless loop on this To Live & Die In LA style tribute. After the trip West they take it back to New York with Knicks, by this point piling on the ill compositions at a crazy rate; the LP’s second half does nothing but bring the heat without missing a beat.
As one of the most memorable tunes on the lead up to Piñata‘s release, Shame still stands tall amidst the album’s heavy hitting tracklist, reminding us why this combination was so exciting to begin with, then after a rage-fuelled interlude from Freddie’s Uncle Big-Time Watts, Madlib’s epic sitar arrangements close out the LP on the extensive title track. Although still a slammer, the song’s impact is lessened slightly by Mac Miller’s kid-in-a-shopping-mall-drawl, but every other rapper writes serious bars, with Gibbs’ verse in particular leaving you no option but to screw up your face and head-nod hard as he adds a gruffness to his rhymes, outdoing himself on his own album. Like watching a car crash without being able to turn away; there’s something grim that draws you to the rapper’s content and grips you for the entire time he holds the mic. His rhymes may not inspire anyone to positive action, but with this standard of production behind him there’s no reason Gibbs can’t go on to become a legend in the arena of mainstream rap reserved for reciting tales of crime; lets just hope he won’t go out through violence like too many already have, and if there’s ever a sequel to this sterling collab; pray he doesn’t keep us waiting like Metal Face.
Piñata is out now on Madlib Invazion, grab it digitally or on wax here.