With a delivery that sounds like 2Pac pitched down a notch, and a technical, streetwise proficiency that's Scarface-styled and just as solid, Gary, Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs is a rare find, but his odd come-up is arguably even more interesting. Promoted by websites with more of an indie spin and hanging with more left-field folk like Chip tha Ripper, SpaceGhostPurrp, and the Cool Kids, Gibbs is a gruff thug who allows access to the avant side of the underground, something that's especially attractive to any edgy beatmaker with a love of hardcore lyrics. In the case of this superior collaboration called Piñata, that beatmaker is Madlib, the wonderfully cloudy king of groove who has long anchored the Stones Throw label to the street. Here, one of his hands is guided by RZA, while the other is guided by Dilla, combining for some creeping, off-world karate movie themes like "Thuggin'" (where Gibbs' proudly admits his "Pants gonna be saggin' till I'm forty"), while "Broken" floats with, apt to its title, some dreamy broken beat soul (prompting Freddie to brilliantly ruminate "Swear I've seen everything but old age"). Madlib's fans will have to do the most adapting, as the skittishness found on his Medicine Show series of releases is smoothed out with more chilled beats and longer running times, but the deliciously off-kilter production style is there and strong, influencing Gibbs to go "Deeper" on the cut of the same name, where he views the local wrecks in his neighborhood as more mature than himself, simply because they're not dealing with this young man's game called "hip-hop". Startling numbers like the block-rockin' then dissolving "Real" crop up throughout the album and make this project even more than a sum of its parts, and with the track list flowing smoothly as attractive guests (Danny Brown, Raekwon, Scarface, Mac Miller, and the list goes diversely and gloriously on) come and go, Piñata winds up excellent overall. Extra points are added for being a peerless success while still giving fans of Mobb Deep, Slum Village, Young Buck, Odd Future, and David Banner enough familiar touchstones for easy access.
4. High feat. Danny Brown
6. Bomb feat. Raekwon
11. Robes feat. Domo Genesis & Earl Sweatshirt
12. Broken feat. Scarface
13. Lakers feat. Ab-Soul & Polyester the Saint
15. Shame feat. BJ The Chicago Kid
16. Watts feat. Big Time Watts