I didn't care much about Freddie Gibbs until Piñata came out. It's no wonder why, really, because his previous releases, well produced and delivered as they are, are as bland and generic as gangsta hip-hop can get. The vaguely-experimental neo-gangsta revival trend (I made that up), Freddie included, got really old really fast for me. Then there was his mellow, monotone delivery just didn't do justice to the raw, loud beats he was rapping over. The man tried to experiment and mix things around, don't get me wrong, but if I were to engage myself into the O.G. lifestyle, I'd much rather prefer listening to the likes of Jay Rock or ASAP Rocky, who're known for putting out more straightforward stuff.
Since Madlib has a history of transforming every generic rapper into a fucking prodigy, it shouldn't surprise anybody that his collaborative project with Freddie gave birth to one of the best albums of the year. Freddie's days as a ''so-so rapper that could be so much more if he were more focused'' are over, because Grandpa Madlib came for a surprise visit during the holidays and is ready to slap some old skool discipline into these meddling rappers.
Piñata is not a major lyrical departure from his previous releases - the stone cold drug-dealing gangsta from Gary, Indiana is still here, the only difference being that now he's matured enough to confront his past and reflect on his life (this brilliant scene from The Wire captures the feeling of the album). He's willing to show you what he's done, what he's proud of and where he fucked up, all while boasting of a sense a pride, because he hasn't chosen the easy way in life (or, more precisely, life hasn't chosen an easy way for him). Freddie knows that he's been a bad boy, but he is also aware of the fact that feeling even the slightest sense of remorse will make him look weak. It's the story of a talented man crawling his way out of the streets that made him cold and ruthless, but at the same time hardened him enough to face the legit world that's filled with backstabbers and dishonest people. This thing has been done a thousand times now and modern hip-hop has pretty much moved away from this trope, but Freddie's story telling abilities and cold, yet humorous and deliciously sarcastic remarks about this particular life style make up for it. There are some songs that focus more on what he is now than what made him the way he is, like Lakers and Knicks, but the introspective parts is where he really shines - Broken, where he talks about being broke and coming from a broken home, and Deeper, a song about this girl he was in love with that matured beyond him and decided she wanted to date a more ''square guy'', as he bitterly puts it.
Madlib's genius production provides Freddie with the perfect platform to spit his grim rhymes. The jazzy beats and funky rhythms give Freddie's introspective rhymes weight and turns what would have potentially been a generic gangsta album into an obligatory listen for every wrinkled stone-cold gangsta that is tired of hustiln' and gang bangin' his way into the grave. Piñata is probably the closest hip-hop has gotten to recreating a noire, almost cinematic aesthetic, and having Freddie, a man that has lived most of his life on the streets, as its protagonist makes it both powerful and absorbing.
I really hope this becomes a thing and more rappers will try to experiment with this style, because it would make for an awesome sub-genre of hip-hop. If it doesn't, well, we'll still have the best damn hip-hop album in recent memory.