Discovering new music through a front-to-back album listening session happens about as much as you fire up the old VCR these days. Case in point, the pairing of Freddie Gibbs & Madlib.
Madlib may be hip-hop’s best living producer, so any project he’s working on gets a listen. However, as with most projects in the digital era, the product tends to be best-digested one song at a time.
Freddie Gibbs, upon first listen, sounds like your typical thug rapper. The former signee to Young Jeezy’s CTE (Corporate Thuggin’ Entertainment) imprint spent his time in the mainstream matrix but Madlib brings out the Gary, Indiana native’s nuances.
With underground and mainstream lanes ever merging in the modern rap superhighway, Madlib’s exploratory, looping backdrops provide a depth to Gibbs’ storytelling he might not be afforded through a more commercial blueprint.
The duo’s Thuggin’ EP (2011) was widely considered a Madlib one-off but two more EPs followed in successive years: Shame (2012) and Deeper (2013); all three were released on Madlib’s own imprint, Madlib Invazion.
These EPs contain four of the strongest seventeen cuts from Pinata (“Harold’s” being the other) and while it’s true Pinata plays best in short spurts, there is enough here to satisfy a wide range of hip-hop enthusiasts.
Features from Raekwon (“Bomb”), Danny Brown (“High”), Ab-Soul (“Lakers”), Mac Miller (title track) and Odd Future alumni Earl Sweatshirt and Domo Genesis (“Robes”) give the album enough name recognition to satisfy that checkbox.
Gibbs’ compelling narratives are a reflection of the powerful booth chemistry the two artists conjure up. On “Deeper,” Freddie tells a tale of love gone bad and other fuckery after being locked up; Madlib’s composition, with a squealing violin and vocal lift from The Ledgends “A Fool For You,” is the perfect accompaniment:
Madlib stays with a steady diet of soul sample flips, most notably on standouts “Shame” which uses The Manhattans’ “Wish That You Were Mine” as its backbone and the tour de force “Broken” (featuring Scarface) with a loop from Isaac Hayes’ “Wherever You Are.”
On “Broken,” Gibbs paints vivid images of strife and sour luck with lyrics like: “keep the heat ’cause I was going through a cold phase.” It’s this type of pith that elevates the MC above the prattle of his trap-rap counterparts. Scarface adds gravitas to this cut.
Tracks like “Knicks,” “Harolds” and “Shitsville” are far from throwaways.
The album could have been pared back by a track or three but any release that contains over 50 percent killer material deserves to be lauded, especially in an age where the mp3 reigns supreme.
Rating: 90 out of 100
Next Up: Madlib, Rock Konducta 1 & 2