REVIEW: Freddie Gibbs & Madlib – Bandana

        For all the debates ablaze in the hip hop community, the unanimous appreciation for Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s music is a true testament to its quality. The duo has released two albums together, Piñata (2014) and Bandana (2019), and are planning on a third installment to complete the trilogy. The rapper-producer team up combines Madlib’s pristine jazz-fusion, soul-sampling production with rapper Freddie Gibbs’s knack for storytelling that is hardcore yet full of streetwise sensibilities. The result is a sort of hip hop purism reminiscent of the early 90’s. 

        Most early hip hop was created by groups or duos that consisted of a producer and one or more emcees. All of the best hip hop acts from the late 80’s and early 90’s had an insular team to take care of both the beats and raps; look no further than groups like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and  Wu-Tang Clan, as well as duos like Erik B. & Rakim and Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth. These groups weren’t pulling outside resources and enlisting a diversity of producers as we’ve become used to seeing. The creative process was more organic by design, and the output more cohesive as a whole.

        On Piñata and Bandana, Gibbs and Madlib remind us of how great ‘team hip hop’ is, and exemplify how it was able to lay the golden foundation for the genre’s future success. Successful teamwork in any setting comes down to an individual team member’s trust in their teammates. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib seem to have devout faith in each other’s ability to make great music, which allows each of them to play to their strengths without overcompensating. This mutual confidence ultimately makes Madlib’s grooves pop and Gibbs’s lyrics glide in sync, neither trying to do too much.

        Madlib’s mastery of eclectic sampling shines once again on Bandana. Some of the music he samples here includes: Jamaican Dancehall artist Tenor Saw on Massage Seats, R&B/soul group the Sylvers on Palmolive, and Revelation Funk on Freestyle Shit. Madlib uses sampling and other techniques to make his instrumentals theatrical; his beats change, develop, and interrupt themselves, which make them rewarding compositions apart from whatever lyrical component exists on top of them. For this reason, Madlib’s production sounds best behind understated rapping that isn’t overly theatrical itself. Freddie Gibbs’s style blends perfectly, as does MF Doom for example, who collaborated with Madlib on their classic album Madvillainy in 2004. MF Doom is known for his stoic, straight-forward delivery (as well as his brilliant wordplay and diction) that is able to find plenty of room for lyrical gymnastics within Madlib’s musical landscapes. 

        Freddie Gibbs, the other half of the team behind Bandana, has always infused his gangster persona into his lyrics. But rather than falling into the usual cliches of rough rap, his lyrics continue to flex a more poetic quality. On Bandana, Freddie Gibbs not only raps with more impressive imagery than ever before, but he also expands his vocal repertoire by introducing more melodies, like on the heartfelt standout Gat Damn. On other standout tracks, Education and Palmolive, Gibbs sounds more than comfortable alongside hip hop veterans Black Thought and Pusha T, as they deliver some of the best rap verses of the year.

        There’s no word yet on when the third album from Gibbs and Madlib – also known as MadGibbs – will come out, but it will reportedly be titled Montana. There’s no reason to be greedy though: Piñata and Bandana have enough great material to tide everyone over for however long it takes for the next installment. 🍑