10. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Piñata
It seems like rap in 2014 was all about finding the right people to work with. Less than ever is the genre a solo endeavor, with even the most dynamic, singular artists having a producer or a consistent feature to lean on. Run the Jewels might be the top dogs, but Freddie Gibbs and Madlib met up to put out a 17-track collaboration that blends ambivalent nostalgia about Gibbs’ hard-knocks past and Madlib’s fusion-heavy beats. The combination of Gary-bred Gibbs’ “do what it takes to survive” mindset and Madlib’s experimental style leads to some of the best genre-bending of the year, with beats that don’t quite sync up to the lyrics aesthetically but still serve them up in a way that no one else seems willing to try.
How often do musicians seek to use production that doesn’t perfectly fit their style? Not only does Gibbs do this on Piñata, but he takes Madlib’s production to a level it wouldn’t reach with a better-fitting rapper, elevating the scarcer beats into something special like “Thuggin’” or “Knicks”. Tracks with which a rapper like Earl Sweatshirt or Captain Murphy would’ve put out their regular fare Gibbs takes and turns on their head with poignant lyrics about memories from his dealing past and the things he’s still willing to do. Piñata leaves the listener to wonder how far Gibbs has come, knowing he’s doing better but unable to shake the feeling he’d still do some of the things he raps about. The juxtaposition of undying realness from Gibbs and the genre-chameleon abilities of Madlib yields one of the most tonally interesting records of the year. –Pat Levy