Review | Freddie Gibbs and Madlib - Bandana
Two of hip-hop's most storied and eclectic personas reunite on Bandana, an album that evolves from a seed to a flower with every listen.
Bandana received a lot of hype prior to it’s release for one historical reason; the last time Freddie Gibbs and Madlib teamed up they released Piñata in 2014. This quickly became one of the most acclaimed hip-hop albums of that year, appearing in no less than eight end of year best lists. What made that project so groundbreaking was Madlib seeming to find his next man. Previous landmark collaborations by Madlib with J Dilla (Champion Sound released under Jaylib) and MF DOOM (the iconic Madvillainy released under Madvillain) served as the prequels to Piñata. Through Piñata, the tinkering and eccentric Madlib had found an MC that maintained he could rap over anything, and so the unique but fruitful partnership was born. However, was the spark still present five years later on the release of Bandana?
Upon first listen, no. Melodies and beats did not initially reveal themselves in a remarkable way. When listening casually, the album seemed to blend coherently into a 46-minute block of hip-hop with no alarming features. However when listening intensively, Bandana morphs into an intricate, rollercoaster ride of samples and heavy bars. Madlib, who by many accounts spends his days trawling through his four tons worth of records scouring for samples, weaves delicate soul and hard drum lines effortlessly and somehow seems to reserve a secret rhythm or sample in each beat that is only truly appreciated after a few listens. Speaking of the samples, they are undoubtedly a highlight of Madlib’s production. On “Education” Madlib samples R. D. Burman’s “Dance Music” arguably better than Kanye West when he used the same cut last year on “Bonjour” from Nas’ latest release, Nasir. Furthermore, the silky smooth beat switch on Fake Names is powered fully by the sampling of “Cry of a Dreamer” by The Sylvers. Whilst the instrumental work by Madlib doesn’t have the instant appeal of a boppy and drum-dominated trap beat, it does have an element of reward that if you invest your ears and mind fully into the album, you’ll be rewarded and enjoy the listening experience much more.
Production aside, Gibbs does his bit too. Since Piñata, Gibbs has gone through a lot, namely his arrest in 2016 after being accused for a rape in Austria in 2015. He was charged for sexual abuse charges on two women and held in jail for two weeks before being released on bail. He was later acquitted of these charges. Since that time in his life, Gibbs’ has added another, more sincere, facet to his lyricism, especially seen on his aptly-named 2017 project You Only Live 2wice. This theme continues on Bandana as Gibbs employs introspective and philosophical motifs to offset his ever-present and hard as hell street lyrics. From “Every time I sleep, dead faces, they occupy my brain.” to “I’m all up in these bitches' tummies like Flat Tummy Tea”, Gibbs leverages his skills at employing duality throughout the whole album to create a multi-faceted representation of his life and history. With Madlib’s inventive sampling and supportive rhythms, Mister Kane could not be better paired.
Best Song - Flat Tummy Tea
Worst Song - Gat Damn