Incendiary and individualist Indiana-born Rap artist, Freddie Gibbs returns to collaborate with the evergreen, erudite production wizardry of Madlib for their latest release, Bandana. Released with the weight of expectation that comes with huge acclaim and classic status of previous offering Pinata, Bandana features Anderson Paak, Killer Mike, Pusha T, Black Thought and Yasmin Bey A.K.A Mos Def. We venture into its grimy, lo-fi, off-kilter universe to discover if Gibbs and Madlib strike back with another coldblooded classic and/or offer something unexpected for their devoted following.
Entitled Bandana to invoke the late Jimi Hendrix and his psychedelic exploits; specifically, his penchant for taking LSD through his pores via that infamous Bandana. Gibbs and Madlib utilised this to elicit a similar response from the listening experience through Bandana’s multitude of beat switches and lyrical content.
In reference to the beat making on this record Madlib rather surprisingly declared that all of his beats were generated through use of an iPad; a seismic shift from the sample-heavy, vinyl crackling, vintage textures he champions. Surprising further is the appearance of Trap beats on Half Manne Half Cocaine, albeit a very Madlib take on the staple, it’s representative of a remarkable break from his usual cannon. Yes, feel the ground, it’s not cold, hell has not frozen over but Madlib has produced a Trap beat!
In spite of this Madlib purists can rest easy as the transition of interface will be seen by most as an interesting counterpoint. I hasten to add that you will still find in abundance the sounds that makes Madlib unequalled by his peers. Bear this in mind before you diehards exercise a barrage of hate into the ether of the internet and see how the shoe fits first. You may be surprised to the point of respect but most probably shock will prevail.
As for Gibbs he is still operating out of a space of anger and excess. His flow is guttural, grimy, interchanging and impactful, the lyrics representing his life’s struggles with crime, drug use, infidelity and institutional racism.
On the track Crime Pays, Gibbs showcases the duality of living a life of crime, the hook’s lyrical content subverted by the verse, captured most prominently with the line, “diamonds on my chain, yeah I slang but I’m still a slave,”. Underpinning this is a sample of Walter Barr’s 1979 track Free Spirit with its lazy medium tempo groove, glistening keys and a shimmering vocal. The musical elements act much in the same way the lyrics in the verse and hook do, they juxtapose the song’s message and alleviate the drudgery of the lyrics. This counterpoint creates one of the smoothest, relaxed vibes on the album. A rulebook which is again deployed to great effect on the new single off the album, Giannis ft. Anderson Paak. Madlib’s production and deep cuts, rather unsurprisingly, remain a dominant feature on this track as well as throughout the album as a whole.
Yet another moment of surprise is during the track, Palmolive which features Pusha T and Killer Mike. Mike performs a lyrically sparse, laidback hook, which I must admit from my own personal perspective left me a little underwhelmed. Having Killer Mike alongside Pusha T and Freddie Gibbs on a track should facilitate their particular propensity towards savage bars and lyrical complexity. It’s a bit of an anti-climax, doesn’t play to their strengths and could have been more rewarding to the listener. Some might feel it was an opportunity missed.
As a follow up to Pinata, Bandana lacks some of the cohesion of what came before, Pinata feels like a more Madlib-centric album, with more interest and fluidity. This being said, Bandana is another feat of Gibbs and Madlib operating out of a space that few artists inhabit. Gibbs has an individual flow that isn’t averse to change and his performances pound for pound on this record are extremely proficient. In addition, the story telling and themes are engaging, emotive and subversive, granting him praise from audiences and artists alike. Bandana could finally be the record Freddie gets the acclaim and commercial success he deserves.
Alongside this Madlib remains a creative force that thrives on change and Bandana has curveball after curveball, yet there is little loss of that famous sound that makes him an essential patch of the hip hop tapestry. Overall, as a stand-alone album it produces the goods and contains within moments of magic and intrigue. It holds a delicate line, respecting its audience and taking risks to propel both artists towards new, unexplored territory. Regardless if it doesn’t hit the dizzying heights of Pinata, Madlib and Gibbs give fans plenty to chew on and reason to be excited for what future projects hold.
Bandana is out now on Rappcats.
Words: Matthew O’Hare