Published Jun 28, 2019For a rapper like Freddie Gibbs, any old beat would frankly do. So astute is his auteurist eye for nitty-gritty details, so athletically nimble is his flow, that the Indiana MC could rap over a construction crew's pounding jackhammers or the beeps of Morse code and still sound great. So when he teams up with a beat-maker as legendarily singular as Madlib — first in 2014 for their joint album Piñata, and now once again for a followup called Bandana — listeners know they're in for something special.
Fans of this dynamic duo's fantastic prior collaborative album will surely be thrilled by this sequel, which exceeds expectations as an inarguable masterpiece. Madlib gives Gibbs plenty to work with, never going quite as far outside the box as the producer famously did on his modern classic with MF Doom, Madvillainy, but nevertheless doling out loads of weird moments over Bandana's 15 tracks.
There are plenty of abrupt changes in instrumentation, for instance, on Bandana songs such as "Half Manne Half Cocaine," the first half of which knocks harder than any modern trap track, despite Madlib's reputation for jazzy throwback sounds. Partway through its runtime, Madlib flips the formerly radio-ready instrumental into the avant-garde. From then on, "Half Manne Half Cocaine" is all sporadic dissonance via creaking key notes and tinny high hats, as Gibbs adopts an equally fractured flow and lyricism, comparing himself to Walter White from Breaking Bad and making chilling vows to piss on his enemies' graves.
More straightforward songs include "Crime Pays," which boasts marble-smooth key notes and a bass line that ping pongs with unpredictability that's undeniably pretty. Gibbs' flow hugs the irresistible rhythm seamlessly as he spits hair-raising, anti-glorification gangsta rhymes like "Choppin' up this change with cocaine in my microwave / Made it through my whole month with my lights out, I seen brighter days." Then there's "Freestyle Shit," for which the old-timey soul instrumental is flecked with vintage foreign film dialogue. Before long, declarative horns kick in and Gibbs unfurls an equally soulful flow somewhere between rapping and singing, the latter of which he's proved competent at on other recent releases.
Aside from Gibbs' and Madlib's palpable chemistry, Bandana is also essential because of the guest turns by fellow hip-hop greats. Take "Palmolive," a song that Killer Mike slathers with a molasses slow flow peppered with lyrics about nefarious enemies circling like sharks for his money. If that wasn't impressive enough, Pusha T slides in to sneer lines about taking over his rivals' blocks and making those inhabitants "assimilate" to his crew's purview.
Glorious as those guest turn are, Bandana has an even more stacked track: "Education." On it, Gibbs holds his own not only with the criminally underrated Black Thought (with whom the Indiana MC traded verses for a key track on his 2015 album Shadow of a Doubt). On top of that, "Education" also features a guest turn from the one and only Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def). He lives up to his timeless '90s work (Black on Both Sides, Black Star) on one of the first verses that the reclusive rapper has put out since who knows when.
While Thought and Mos spit more noteworthy lines than can be sussed out in an academic dissertation, much less a quick album review like this, Gibbs all but steals the show with disses against his enemies like "You ain't lit, you litter like Trump Twitter feed." That he performs so strongly alongside such esteemed seasoned vets is a feat Gibbs can gloat about for the rest of his career.
These tracks and more not only help Bandana live up to the promise of Madlib and Gibbs' last joint outing, not to mention the momentum that Gibbs has built up on nearly an annual basis with recent solo releases like Freddie, You Only Live 2wice and Shadow of a Doubt. Measured against those feats, or just about any other, Bandana also stands on its own as one of the very best rap albums of 2019, or any other year in recent memory. (Keep Cool / RCA)