Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Pinata

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Freddie Gibbs’ best project and the best hip-hop album of 2014 so far, but this is still overrated, and if this ends up being the best hip-hop release of 2014, it’d be for the same reason why the same people claimed Run the Jewels for 2013: a respectable rapper and respectable beat-maker making a respectable album is sure to be more agreeable than say, Kanye West, whose reputation doesn’t ask for respect, so he often gets none. Moreover, both of these albums are hip choices, that is to say, defiantly anti-mainstream: El-P’s apocalyptic futuristic beats or Madlib’s vintage soul samples have no business in the present, and Freddie Gibbs’ subject matter would’ve been right at home two decades ago; again, no business in the present. 

Some obvious problem first: you have to suffer through the inexplicable mixing of Danny Brown’s otherwise excellent verse on “High” (it sounds phoned in); a really fucking awkward Ab-Soul verse on “Lakers” that starts “I’m on my way to LAX from JFK, it’s a great day / I mean I love New York, but of course / I live out there so don’t [random pause] go there” and ends “I heard the baddest females on pacific coastal / If it means anything, I’m so L.A. my dad died on King, nigga”; and I have no idea who thought Mac Miller ought to wrap up the title track and posse cut with his incoherent rambling about how great he is, ending “Pinata” on a mediocre note (also should’ve ended with the scream). (Speaking of that scream and speaking of Kanye West, compare: “Beating up the pussy, have her screaming like a exorcist, AAAAAHHH!” with “Put my fist in her like a civil rights sign / And grabbed it with a slight grind / And held it ’til the right time / Then she came like AAAAAHHH!”) 

A bigger problem: this has to be the safest collection of Madlib beats I done ever heard since, shit, since 2007’s Liberation with Talib Kweli. This doesn’t necessarily mean the beats are bad – certainly not the case here (though you may as well start the album off on “Deeper” since the minimal “Scarface” fails to do anything except make you wonder where Scarface is; replace this with “City” immediately) – but the people bringing up Madvillainy in comparison are only doing so because they’re obligated to do so. Yet, none of the things that made the beats in Madvillainy immortal show up here, not the woozy out-of-sync-ness of “Accordion,” not the baroque strings of “Strange Ways,” not the wobbly tones that made “Eye” and “Supervillain Theme” psychedelic songs for wandering the city, and very rarely will Madlib bother shoving as many sounds as he can find in his crate of goodies into a song as he did on “Curls” or “All Caps.” And all those just-mentioned songs remind me of another problem: you can also say goodbye to 2-minute songs that said all they needed to say and left. Here, songs have to follow verse-chorus-verse-chorus-verse-chorus format, it seems, and if that weren’t enough, skits and outros! Terrible skits and outros everywhere!Especially the shit tacked on to the end of “Robes” and the title track – yeeeeesh. (Also: remember basslines like “Meat Grinder” or “Axe Puzzles” that fucked you so hard it fucked your mom? Whatever happened to those?) 

As for Freddie Gibbs? As opposed to MF DOOM, who was a great rapper who sometimes slipped into weed-induced laziness, Freddie Gibbs is a good rapper if only flow-wise (lyrically, he fucks women, sells and does drugs – yawn; is it supposed to be clever or humourous that he juxtaposes his love for those things with fried chicken on “Harold’s?”) who only sometimes aspires to greatness. The album follows suit, and though Pinata never sinks to the lows of “Rainbows” (the one where MF DOOM sang, you recall) or “Hardcore Hustle” (the one where some asshole named Wildchild rapped over a nonexistent beat, you remember), Madvillainy is still the better album because greatness means more than goodness. 

Anyway, I dig “High” for its keyboard/guitar hook that’s later replaced by the woman singing; I dig “Bomb” because the synth hook is fuckin’ huge but also because the bleeps and bloops under Raekwon’s verse remind me of “Figaro”; I dig “Robes” because, as mentioned, the beat’s great, but so’s the hook, and so are the verses (Earl Sweatshirt: “Like the key open the door, I twist”; Freddie Gibbs: “He chase a bitch but I was chose”) (Speaking of Figaro, compare the way DOOM suddenly sang “Una duociano” to the way Freddie Gibbs suddenly does “I only think of you, on two occasions”); I dig “Shame” because BJ the Chicago Kid drops the hook of his lifetime; I dig “Pinata” because it bangs louder than Hit-Boy’s “1 Train” (A$AP Rocky’s posse cut of internet-famous rappers of yesteryear), which helps this one get to the finish line even if the rapping is worse than the latter. And I dig “Deeper,” wherein Gibbs details a woman who left him for someone else (and has his child as well) while Madlib uses a thin string line to drive the song and teases out a soul sample for its hook. The second verse is the best of the album, offering Freddie Gibbs using internal rhymes for all their worth, “Girl, you used to say them other niggas wasn’t hood enough / Got your hood degree, now niggas from the hood ain’t good enough” and the subtle but discernible flow switch that alone communicates Gibbs’ anger in “But you ran off and got engaged, man that shit was wrong / All to a nigga that don’t got nothing that I ain’t got / Only difference is he trying to be a fucking astronaut.”

A-

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