Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata

Great chemistry produces results on this fine collaboration...

Having quietly dropped handful of collaborative tracks over the past couple of years, the unlikely partnership of bohemian LA beatmaker Madlib and snarling MC Freddie Gibbs reaches its apex with ‘Piñata’, a rugged yet wholly cinematic depiction of the low-level hustle.

Described by its authors as “a gangster Blaxploitation film on wax”, Gibbs – hard as nails and with Tupac blood coursing through his veins – fills the dual roles of writer and chief protagonist, and the Indiana native’s ability to construct an absorbing narrative paints a gritty tale, drained of much of the usual glamour that hip-hop often associates with the drug trade.

For example, ‘Deeper’ charts a relationship that crumbles under the strain of the criminal life, as Gibbs’s lover falls pregnant to a real straight shooter while he serves a prison stint.

But although bleak in places, ‘Piñata’ is far from a dour record. Madlib – the director of the piece – is as sonically thrilling on the beats as ever, and in keeping with the Blaxploitation theme he utilises his superhuman ear for a sample to excavate dusty 1970s soul grooves for his cultured orchestration.

Gibbs has generally tended to rap over crawling synths and weighty synthetic drums that work well with his deep drawl, so on paper the pair don’t jump out as natural collaborators. Yet here he expertly negotiates Madlib’s minefield, forcefully popping words off the producer’s gorgeously mined snares and snatched vocal loops.

Guest verses come from Danny BrownEarl Sweatshirt and Raekwon, among others, but nothing on ‘Piñata’ works as well as the headline duo’s chemistry.


Words: Dean Van Nguyen

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