Album Review by Nick Moeller
By the time Freddie Gibbs tells you, “I don’t believe these rap n****s,” there’s something about his album Piñata that has you feeling equally as doubtful about the (other) major players in the rap game. There’s something inviting and enticing about every track on the collaborative album with Madlib; there’s something that brings you into Gangsta Gibbs’ world. He seamlessly paints a collective picture of a desolate, dog-eat-dog environment in Gary, Indiana that you somehow connect with it, despite having never been remotely close to the grisly descriptions of armed robbery, illicit drug sales, and murder. As the album progresses, these themes are delivered in stunning variety over a vast array of impeccable Madlib-manufactured beats that the listener never once thinks, “Did he say this already?”
Freddie Gibbs doesn’t waver from his gangster persona, concisely summarizing the album on the track “Uno,” “Judge a man by his character and not by his wealth / A real G, I never kissed n****s or shot myself.” This comes from Gibbs as his differentiation from the many other artists who flaunt their supposedly-street earned wealth without any true integrity or legitimacy behind it. He also takes a direct shot at Lil Wayne, who accidentally shot himself in the chest as a kid and was was photographed kissing Birdman on the lips later in life. Throughout the album, Freddie Gibbs expresses his individualism and establishes his position as an artist with credibility behind his lyrics, a true testament to his character.
Similarly unfazed, Piñata includes the song “Real” (an acronym for Remember Everybody Ain’t Loyal), directed as a diss track towards his former label CTE World’s founder, Young Jeezy (with whom Gibbs has well-documented beef), saying, “Yeah, I know you sold the blow and whipped the hard / But underneath the f***in’ money, you’s a f***in’ mark.” It’s also interesting to see Gibbs here admit that Jeezy did, in fact, engage in many of the activities he claims to have been involved in, but that there is still something that fundamentally distinguishes himself from Jeezy: the real gangster disposition. He then ends the track by calling himself the “Snowman killa,” which plays to Gibbs’ personality: no bullshit, in-your-face, and unapologetic.
Another instant classic track is “Thuggin’,” which is complemented by a music video that actively depicts the major actions and themes in the song, from armed robbery to manufacturing crack cocaine. Freddie Gibbs recently was featured in a Noisey video responding to comments on the YouTube video, where he claims, “With this video, what we were trying to bring across was the reality of the situation. He was really smoking crack in that video. But, we weren’t trying to just, you know, sell it on that angle. We just wanted to, you know, give you a vivid interpretation of, you know, what really goes on.” It’s intriguing to see the same imagery and themes that are often used to exploit the rap culture (i.e. the stereotypical guns, drugs, and sex) used in such a different manner. Instead, Gibbs has clearly stated that he’s not condoning any of the content in his videos, but simply uses it for its intended purpose, which is to document the inescapable realities of the ghetto.
To Madlib’s credit, the beat for the song “Harold’s” is easily one of the most remarkable in the album. As soon as the track begins, brazen use of electro-jazz guitar riffs leads to feet-tapping and humming. If you never thought that the line “Skinny n****, six wing mild sauce” could not only synchronize, but even build upon a tune so melodious on its own, now is the time to break out the fork for your humble pie. You can also throw in a big thank you to Madlib for dedicating his musical prowess to this album.
The content of Gangsta Gibbs’ verses, true to his namesake, is rarely seen today delivered over the harmonious beats featured in Piñata (not to mention the eloquence with which they’re delivered). The increasing popularity of Drill Music, as popularized by Chief Keef, has led to a fundamental shift in the Gangster Rap genre. It’s become almost standard to hear an artist depict their memories in the ghetto in monosyllabic, sometimes repetitive lyrics delivered over bass-heavy Young Chop-esque beats. This is not to say that the drill artists and producers do not have their value; only that it’s refreshing to hear similar content delivered in such a markedly different way over a fresh set of beats. Pinãta is consistent, true to Freddie Gibbs’ nature, and easily a contender for rap album of the year.
Check out the album stream: