The follow-up to 2014’s bonafide classic Piñata from gangsta rap mogul Freddie Gibbs and production wizard Madlib is what we all expected and more. Bandana is a polished, finely-poised and incredibly executed masterclass which confirms much of what we already knew already; and that is that Gibbs is street rap royalty and Madlib is the most innovative hip-hop producer ever. Alone they are fantastic, together they are unstoppable and unmatched.
It would be safe to say that this album was probably my most eagerly anticipated project of the year. Piñata was such a pinnacle moment in my hip-hop discoveries and still to this day ranks as one of the best rap albums of the decade; so upon hearing the news that a sequel was in the works I, for lack of a better term, lost my shit.
If you’ve ever listened to Freddie Gibbs before you know what to expect by now; he raps about fucking bitches, shooting pistols and flipping bricks. His wordplay is what sets him apart from the rest, however, alongside his utterly mean delivery and mind-bending flows; he truly is a modern-day rapper that the hip-hop traditionalists will cherish.
Madlib needs little to no introduction by now. He is the mastermind beat chopper that has brought us some of the most remarkably produced rap albums of all time, including Madvillainy with MF DOOM, Champion Sound with J Dilla and of course Piñata with the man in question here, Freddie Gibbs. His jazz fusion style alongside stunning sampling abilities has made him one of the more prominent and prolific producers of the 21st century; but would the sophomore MadGibbs album follow suit?
In a word: yes. The fact that this duo managed to not just make a project that weighed up alongside Piñata but perhaps even top it is mind blowing. Throughout the entire 13 song, 46 minute runtime you are transformed into this world of the rap persona; street life and the road to riches being hot on the agenda throughout. This is done both in the ways of stylistic sampling from Madlib and victory lap bars from Freddie as both bring their utter A-game from start to finish.
Lyrically, Gibbs is more focused than ever before, still sticking to the drug-fuelled narratives he always has, but doing so with more punch and far more triumph. He paints the picture of ‘just A guy to THE guy’ to absolute perfection on Bandana, his tales of criminal activity just to afford to eat culminating in a millionaire lifestyle demonstrating the truly deserved god complex that he has amassed over the years. His words still hold violent tones and dark imagery, but he is far more philosophical on that front now; so when he tells you he’s “John Wick with the pistol game” on here you know it’s coming from a higher place than he once was.
On the production side of things, Madlib is, well, Madlib. He uses quirky skits, funkadelic breakdowns and soulful jazz samples to create these gorgeous soundscape canvases for Freddie to rap over. He strikes the incredible balance of hitting really damn hard on beats like Half Manne Half Cocaine (both of them, ESPECIALLY that beat switch) and also toying with more understated layers on stunning cuts like Practice. He just gets it, knowing exactly which buttons to press and which avenues to explore at specific moments; with the “warning” we get on Freestyle S**t being a prime example of this.
Now I need to talk about these features for a minute; because very rarely on an album does EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. of the features fit as perfectly as they do here on Bandana. Killer Mike and Pusha T on the magnificent coke-dealing concept track Palmolive play their part impeccably, with Mike’s sticky hook looping in your head and Pusha setting fire to the beat with his flashy display. Anderson .Paak does what he does best on Giannis, and that is bring an unimaginable amount of sauce both in his hook and his choppy verse; both of which do a great job of not being overshadowed by the wonderful performances of MadGibbs. Finally, Yasiin Bey and Black Thought drop lyrical lessons on us all with the first two verses of Education; a track which sees all three rappers in question tackle the ranging issues of racial indifferences, and it’s some of the finest conscious rap wordplay I’ve heard in years.
I don’t know what it is about these two, but every time they work together they don’t just sing from the same hymn sheet, they rip it up, set fire to it and scribble their own even better one. Bandana is a modern day hip-hop masterpiece that will click for just about every listener of rap music, whether you love the new school rappers of Travis Scott and Future, or if you’re the oldest of traditionalists who still clings onto the likes of Rakim and Slick Rick. The beats are fucking godly, the raps are a tantalising combination of evil and clean, the features are perfect and the cohesion of the project makes it a technical phenomenon. I never thought in a million years they could top Piñata but guys, it is with the utmost pleasure I can report to you that they absolutely have; it’s an instant classic.
Best Tracks: Half Manne Half Cocaine, Crime Pays, Massage Seats, Palmolive, Flat Tummy Tea, Giannis, Practice, Cataracts, Education
Worst Tracks: This is simply not a term that exists in the world of MadGibbs, so N/A.