After five years of anticipation, Gary, Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs and Los Angeles beat maestro Madlib have returned with the follow up to their 2014 gangsta-jazz-rap masterpiece Piñata. Their new LP, Bandana, has been on the minds of critics and fans alike since it was first teased in 2016. As Gibbs has regained his footing since being acquitted of sexual assault charges in Austria (he was locked up for months) and Madlib has continued to go about his usual “beat konducta” business, dropping a slew of collaborative projects over the past few years, the hip-hop community waited patiently for MadGibbs’ inevitable return.
By this point in their respective careers, there’s no beating around the bush when analyzing what each artist in the duo does well. Gibbs is a cold-blooded street rapper, a verbal technician known for sporting some of the best flows in the rap game and painting vivid pictures of his rags to riches story. Madlib, the more forward-thinking of the two, has a long-running reputation as one of hip-hop’s most creative producers, is responsible for playing a key role in a number of classic albums and has an incredible ear for dicing up obscure samples and turning them into underground anthems.
With each of their legacies in good hands, one could say neither Gibbs or Madlib have much left to prove in the way of stellar creative output. So what should one expect when a mastermind producer and an MC, widely considered to be among the cream of the crop in contemporary rap, link up for the second time in the same decade? The quality level of album number two should come as a surprise to no one, as Bandana delivers on the promise of their previous masterpiece with a fresh batch of skillfully-crafted gangsta raps and hip-hop wizardry.
As anyone familiar with Piñata would expect, the sound pallet on Bandana features a heavy mix of jazz, soul and other classical pastiches that have become staples in Madlib’s repertoire. The breadth of the album’s instrumentals is potent and regularly catches a mellow and mildly intoxicating vibe. The number of beats that are absolutely jaw-dropping is few to none, but in terms of consistency, the mood of the project establishes an exciting atmosphere for Gibbs to lay down the law.
Take the rickety garage aesthetic of “Massage Seats” or the schizophrenic soundscape of the first half of “Flat Tummy Tea,” where Madlib’s off-kilter drum sequencing and perfect incorporation of scattered rings and noises knits tightly together to form a sturdy bassline under an unchained Gibbs, who wastes no time in daring rappers to come challenge him in the gutter. “Tea” sounds much louder than the “Seats,” but both tracks achieve the same chemical balance, creating ample space for Gibbs to work in his own acrobatics on the mic.
From a lyrical perspective, Gibbs exudes confidence at every turn. He’s always been skilled at busting out impressive flex bars, but on Bandana he is noticeably more comfortable and cocky in his approach. His elite references to the dope game are in full force on the trap-infused “Half Manne Half Cocaine,” the reflective crime narrative “Fake Names,” where Gibbs channels a drugged and derailed cross of Big L and 2Pac, and on the subtly psychedelic standout “Crime Pays.”
One of Freddie Gibbs most underrated qualities a lyricist is his ability to embed even his hardest raps with complex introspection, a trait that has blossomed as his career has developed this decade. The standout example of this on Bandana is “Practice,” on which Gibbs rides a smooth Donny Hathaway sample amid expressing the tumultuous feelings that result from being submerged in a life of violence and sin, and the soul searching he had to do to overcome those obstacles.
Like Piñata, the deep cuts on Bandana are far from filler. “Situations” and “Gat Damn,” two of the record’s more contemporary sounding cuts, provide a fresh and melodic change of pace. Elsewhere, “Cataracts” is an uplifting, J Dilla-esque soul collage, while “Freestyle S**t,” the understated intro track, also has a classy gangster feel thanks to slow-budding horns and Gibbs’ assertive presence.
In contrast to their 2014 debut, Bandana features far fewer guest appearances in the way of other rappers; however, the names that do show up deliver in a big way. Pusha T’s verse on “Palmolive” figures to be in the conversation for feature of the year, with the line – “It was snowfall and Reagan gave me the visual, Obama opened his doors knowing I was a criminal” – serving as one of the many jewels from his guest spot. Additionally, Anderson .Paak shines with a stellar hook and rap verse on the menacing “Giannis.”
If Gibbs nor Madlib have anything left to prove, Bandana helps solidify their legacies, both individually and as a duo, and shows why they should still be considered among the best at what they do. It’s a masterclass in rapping, storytelling, beat-crafting and musical presentation. While Bandana continues to sink in around the rap community, it’s only a matter of time before talk of the next MadGibbs LP starts buzzing. I’d bet the third installment is just as enticing.