By Syd Smith
Artist: Freddie Gibbs and Madlib
Release Date: June 28, 2019
Batman and Robin. Bert and Ernie. Peanut butter and jelly. Freddie Gibbs and Madlib.
That’s right, the dynamic duo is back with Bandana, a release that was promised three years ago in 2016, two years after their now infamous album, Piñata, dropped with Freddie Gibbs sitting on the zebra-print cover in his black and white Adidas tracksuit. Back then, Madlib sent some of his one-of-a-kind beats to Gibbs who took them and filled in the gaps with his lyrics like an actual game of Madlibs.
This time around the same concept was used, though from interviews it sounds like the two artists spent more time in the studio together and weren’t just pen pals during the process. A lot of anticipation has been built in those three years while Gibbs has been busy eating fast food and getting fat, during which he went to Austrian prison under false charges, and Kanye ignored the beats Madlib sent him for the new Bandana LP.
So the question from a lot of fans when they heard the record was finally dropping was if it was going to be as good as Piñata? And it seems the major consensus now that it’s been out is that Bandana’s a great album, but it’s no Piñata. I share the same thought but can’t help but think I got my nostalgia goggles on, either way if you’re a JDilla, MF DOOM or a fan of any Stones Throw Records artist then you’re in for a sweet ride.
Gibbs spills out bars like a runaway freight train. Whenever you think he’s about to stop to catch his breath the verse continues on until he decides he’s said enough; he’s comfortable enough now to go into the studio with nothing written down, all he needs is an instrumental from Madlib. Gibbs’ lyrics are reminiscent of summer days back when he was married to the streets with a car trunk full of mixtapes, chopping up bars once again about his salad days in Gary, Indiana.
There’s plenty of heavy hitting verses delivered by Gibbs, though some of the most personal material comes from “Situations” where Gibbs remembers what it was like to be seven years old in Gary, playing Pac Man and Centipede in the arcade when his uncle stabbed someone in front of him or later on in the song when he remembers him and his cousin dodging bullets as kids. These lyrics make Bandana a bit more intimate than Piñata, as Gibbs takes us deeper into his past. Though by the end of the album it seems he has found a new peace with his nightmarish past saying, “I can’t hold grudges, my hands too busy catching blessings.”
Madlib’s work on this new album is equally inspiring, using the most left-field samples the vinyl hoarder could dig up, for instance on “Palmolive” he uses a sample of comedian Dap ‘Sugar’ Willie doing a bit about a man named Fred who cheats with another man’s wife; the sample is fitting as it addresses Gibbs cheating on his wife, in a bit of tongue in cheek way as the sample cuts before the audience gets a chance to laugh at the punch line.
The track “Practice” samples Donny Hathaway’s lonely and heartbroken “Make It On Your Own” which makes a nice runway for Gibbs’ guilty delivery as he rushes out line after line about cheating on his wife with a stripper. Along with TuPac’s obvious influence, Gibbs said he listened to Jay-Z growing up and it’s hard not to say that this track might’ve been inspired by Jay-Z’s “4:44”, the track about him cheating on Beyoncé which has its own chilling sample of Hannah Williams & The Affirmations “Late Nights & Heartbreak”.
So those are just a few highlights, but you could nitpick the album apart all day because there’s so much condensed in these 15 tracks, it’s like trying to unpack a hearty can of whoop-ass. And I didn’t mention the countless movie references by both Gibbs and the featured rappers on this album, Killer Mike, Anderson Paak, Pusha-T, Black Thought and Ysiin Bey, all of which do a stellar job though it would’ve been nice to hear Earl Sweatshirt or Danny Brown again or maybe bring in some big guns with Kendrick or Tyler the Creator. I didn’t mention the familiar bars about pro ballers (Giannis Antetokounmpo from the Bucks getting a song named after him), John Wick, Jeff Sessions, or The Sopranos but they are all there if you can keep up with Gibbs’ flow.
Hell even the album’s cover art has hidden gems, the broken piñata in the bottom right corner, Madlib’s pink car crashed into the Hollywood sign that can be seen on the cover of his alter ego’s Quasimoto’s 2000 album The Unseen and Gibbs characterized by the cartoon zebra because of the zebra print on Piñata. And then you can’t forget the odd crackling soundbites Madlib uses to unify the album like he did on Piñata, Gibbs’ late uncle Big Time Watts who introduces the album asking for a beer, the strange male robotic like Japanese voice that is used on the intro track and on “Fake Names”, along with the cussing pastor character on the outro for “Situations”.
Every detail comes into play on Bandana, both Gibbs and Madlib throw in everything including the kitchen sink, collabing on each track as if it were their last. The finished product is an instant classic that you should add to your milkcrate of records. Gibbs and Madlib reunited and it feels so good. At the end of the day we’re all so excited because the two are back at it like Bill and Ted, Wayne and Garth, Shaggy and Scoob. Who knows where the two will go with their music next.