June 30, 2019

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Bandana Review


Bandana, the second record of a planned trilogy by hip-hop duo MadGibbs, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib bring the heat just as expected. Not only does Bandana build upon their first album, 2014’s PiƱata (my review of which can be read here), but it also delivers an impeccable flow by Freddie with m.ind a.ltering d.emented l.essons i.n b.eats to match. 

There isn’t need for much discourse when discussing the best hip-hop producers alive today. Madlib’s soul-soaked music sparks Bandana just like it did with PiƱata and most other albums he’s involved in. It is known that Madlib has a Midas touch with mixing old-time music with new sounds, and the first takeaway as this album begins is Madlib’s appreciation of vintage sound. He is, after all, a loop digger who often finds gold to infuse his beats. The soul that permeates, as a result, makes Freddie Gibbs stand out amongst other rappers releasing albums today. Another more apparent feature of Bandana is the album’s lack of features when compared to PiƱata’s stacked guest list. This, however, works to Freddie’s advantage, as he has a lot more time to shine on this record, and he still gets some guests on here that are noteworthy and exciting, such as Anderson .Pak, Killer Mike, Yasiin Bey (also known as Mos Def), and Black Thought (of The Roots).

Bandana starts with a brief intro track, a skit featuring a thick-accented man of possibly Asain descent speaking in support of Freddie and with a vulgar dialect that comes across comically. His vocal quips are in and out in a couple of other parts of the album, as well as Freddie’s own candid comments captured in the booth after several of his songs, which give a feeling of intimacy and amusement between tracks. The first official track, Freestyle S**t, shows just why Freddie Gibbs is perfectly suited for Madlib’s beats. Just like MF DOOM on their classic collaborative album, Madvillainy, Freddie knows how to treat Madlib’s varied and alternative beats, as he proves that his verses and wordplay can flow or speed up depending on his choice of delivery. His versatility can be heard on every track, but this freestyle track is just a great opener of an album destined for greatness. Half Manne Half Cocaine is an example of a song that is in actuality two songs put together. This can be found on several tracks including Fake Names and Flat Tummy Tea as well since Madlib always seems to be able to pack his producer albums with awe-inspiring music. Freddie always shows that he can keep up with the different styles produced by Madlib so that it always appears seamless in these tracks, and Half Manne Half Cocaine is an awesome example of this, as it starts off with a pretty modern-day trap beat for Freddie to rap on, but suddenly takes a left turn into screwball land with a beat most rappers would fall flat on, but nevertheless Freddie’s up to the challenge of a weird beat to show he’s got it under control. 

As the album approaches it’s first single, Crime Pays, listeners are treated to the first of many soulful jams, which are an absolute delight to hear, and Freddie elevates them with his storytelling and wordplay. Other tracks that are pumped full of soul include Palmolive, Cataracts, and Practice. Tracks that feature more hardcore modern beats include Flat Tummy Tea, Situations, and Giannis, which features Anderson .Pak. On both of these types of beats, Freddie is ready. Fake Names features a vivid piece of story as Freddie recounts those who have passed away that have haunted him, rapping, "shit's so real, gotta use fake names, every time I sleep, dead faces, they occupy my brain," and later, "you was like a brother to me, no other to me, swear I would trade my life for yours, I knew you was fucking with me," missing a dear friend of his. It's times like these in tracks when it feels like Freddie is exorcising his demons. Education, which features Yasiin Bey and Black Thought, is perfectly fitting for two socially conscious rappers, and the three combine forces to drop bombs of truth in a highly educational track. Black Thought raps, "If you're figurin' this man's maniacal, you're right, bar codes on the wristband, it's not an oversight, they intentionally expand, probably to extradite, if you wanna play blind, just look straight into the light, the puppeteers playin' you for spite, and worldwide, what we're payin' is the price, and that's life, an education." Soul Right is a powerful and humbling final song on the album. “I can’t hold no grudges, my hands too busy catching blessings,” Freddie raps with victory and dignity. “And I’ve been struggling my whole life,” he repeats as the track fades to a close. It’s a powerful notion to end on while leveling with his listeners and it comes off inspiring and encouraging to see his struggles turn into this beautiful work he and Madlib released this year.

The album artwork features Quasimoto, Madlib’s cartoon swine which he invented in the early 2000s, riding a zebra, a representation of Freddie, as they both look down on Los Angeles as it burns. Other Easter eggs include Quasimoto’s pink car from his debut album cover crashed on the hillside, with Freddie’s broken piƱata strewn across the ground nearby. It is a cool combination of the two artists, and seeing this artwork ahead of release had me really excited if Lord Quas was going to get a guest feature on one of the tracks. Sadly, this was not the case, as Quas is nowhere to be heard on the album. Still, the album is full of plenty of nuggets of gold in productions and Freddie verses to please and astound any fans of either of these two dudes.

Bandana is a worthy follow-up to PiƱata, and a more Freddie focused record for the better. Although PiƱata's strengths include it's multiple guest features, Freddie Gibbs's talents are in the forefront on this release, and with excellent addictive beats by a legend of a hip-hop producer, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib's dream-team cooks up another modern hip-hop classic. Given their two huge successes, it stacks the pressure on their final collaborative album in the trilogy, Montana, but until that album drops, fans and listeners have two brilliant hip-hop works to bide the time.

Bandana - 9/10

Recommended Tracks: Crime Pays, Situations, Cataracts