Review Summary: Filled with delicious goodies for everyone.
Another day, another Madlib production. Since the 90s, Otis Jackson Jr. has, under the name of Madlib, been involved in numerous releases in hip-hop’s underground. He rose to fame during the 2000’s as both a producer and an MC, with the pinnacle of his achievement being the critically acclaimed “Madvillainy,” a collaborative album, much like Pinata, but featuring the enigmatic and commanding MF DOOM.
Pinata, as a collaboration with Madlib and an MC, naturally makes Madvillainy the easiest comparison. Yet, to contend that Gibbs must exist solely in Dumile’s iron-masked shadow is to do Pinata injustice.
The first glimpse you get of Pinata comes with some suitably “vintage” sounding samples put over a strangely familiar drumbeat. The vicious tone and meaning in the samples in “Supplier” gives us our first insight as to the biggest difference between Pinata and Madvillainy. Pinata is a far more aggressive album, and this is mostly due to Freddie Gibbs. His deep voice is evocative of a less syncopated, less furious DMX, and his classic gangsta lyrics and flow mesh with the instrumentals impeccably. The album gets progressively more confident as it goes on, with the only guest appearances from Danny Brown and Raekwon until the last seven tracks, which feature many other rappers from Domo Genesis to Ab-Soul and Scarface. The final track is a behemoth with six guest appearances; a vicious posse cut that wraps Pinata up in a nice little bow of classic gangster hubris.
El-P has a talent for molding other rappers to his beats; Madlib is more given to laying down the beat and letting the rhymes sink or swim. The biggest preconceptions I came into this album with arose from Madvillain; Freddie Gibbs was an unproven talent, and I naturally questioned his ability to keep up with Madlib’s impeccable instrumentals. He more than satisfies; Gibbs does a tremendous job at keeping up with Madlib’s production. The only issue with his rapping is that it’s hard to take Gibbs’ gruff voice for the length of all seventeen tracks on the album. The guest appearances do a good job of breaking it up and adding some variety, but by about halfway through the album you might find yourself tempted to tune out the raps, which is a shame, because some of Gibbs best moments on the album come in tracks five through nine. These same tracks also sometimes drag on a little bit too long; cutting five or ten minutes from the center of the album would have done wonders for the pacing. Once you get past that, however, Pinata finishes nicely, with the plethora of guest verses adding variety to the second half.
The combination of the rough Gangsta Gibbs and the unconventional Madlib seems like a somewhat incompatible one on paper, but the pair does have a strange charisma about them. Gibbs’ introspective, aggressive, and sometimes even anguished lyrics give us a portrait of the man’s life, and with Madlib’s production style, live up to Gibbs’ own characterization of the album as a “generic Blaxpoitation film on wax.” Perhaps it’s only fitting that the final product is a little hard to swallow whole.