By Matthew Bu
Although the infamous gangsta-rap era of hip-hop has come and gone, there have been countless albums released throughout the 21st century that have attempted to carry on its sound and legacy. Some have been praised, while others have been critically panned. However, there has not really been any novel or outstanding gangsta-rap album released recently. On Piñata, though, Indiana MC Freddie Gibbs and acclaimed hip-hop producer Madlib show that gangsta-rap is not dead, and in fact, that it is alive and well in the hands of this producer/MC duo.
What distinguishes this album from other gangsta-rap works is the fantastic production. While ‘Lib is usually known for his abstract beats and meticulous sample cuts (see: Madvillainy), on Pinata he takes a step back from his usual approach and, instead, orchestrates both beautiful and vicious West Coast sounding beats. Each beat sounds like a movie scene. Shitsville is a prime example, and, in my opinion, the best beat on the album. The frantic violin sample and heavy bass line creates a ruthless and ominous atmosphere. Madlib is a skilled producer though. Throughout the whole album, he does not stick to one single sound. Like his other works, Madlib also stiches dialogue from old television shows and movies to create short skits placed in between the tracks, which fit well with the theme of the album.
While Madlib may be the more famous member of the duo, Freddie Gibbs displays his lyrical prowess and manages to stay on par with ‘Lib. Although he isn’t the most poetic rapper, Gibbs’ intonation, straightforwardness, and hunger for the microphone compensate for his lack of clever wordplay. Just listen to Real. On this track, Gibbs lyrically attacks his former boss, Young Jeezy, pointing out his hypocrisy and absence of bravery. He ruthlessly punishes Jeezy, and illuminates the Don Corleone within himself. Gibbs may even be the epitome of gangster (just look at the album cover!). While this is a tough track to digest, Gibbs takes himself very lightly unlike other contemporary rappers. On High, he raps a stoner anthem, while on Harold’s, he raps about his favourite fried chicken dish: six wings, mild sauce, and all the fries you can give him. Additionally, Gibbs croons a short cover of TLC’s Waterfall on the end of Robes over an eccentric beat. My only complaint, which is a minor one, is that Gibbs’ flow can get slightly boring at times. Perhaps, if he switched his style once in a while, this problem wouldn’t occur.
So far, Pinata has been one of the best-crafted hip-hop albums I have listened to. The features are strong (except for Mac Miller – I just can’t stand him), and both Madlib and Freddie Gibbs manage to recreate the gangsta-rap atmosphere that occupied California in the ‘90s. Not to mention, this album is fun and extremely rewarding with Gibbs’ humorous personality. You can and probably should watch a live version of my favourite track, Shitsville, here.