Review: Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, ‘Bandana’

The promised MadGibbs sequel maintains rap excellence.

Five years ago, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib showed the world just how to make a producer-rapper album. The pair first joined forces on 2014’s Piñata, a staple showcase of vintage hip hop; cutthroat, raw and assorted. Madlib’s ingenious samples kindly greeted Gibbs’ aggressive gangsta rap coke tales at the door for an unpredictable formula for rap perfection, making Madlib and Freddie Gibbs the greatest hip hop duo of the decade. Critics saluted the album at the time, but have since inflated acclaim to cover up for their underestimation. The album is a classic without ever bubbling up to the mainstream.

This makes the announcement of Bandana ambivalent. Sequels are always nerve-wracking, the burden of living up to expectations weighing hard on its shoulders. On the other hand, fans want more of the magic, and the eclipsing efforts of MadGibbs first time round proves it is more than possible for lightning to strike twice.

Piñata was the story of a premature thug still slanging on the street. Bandana is the same thug, fully-grown and evolved, settled down and living the lavish life.

The established MadGibbs traits thankfully pour over to Bandana. The hilarious skits are back (“Let’s have a fuckaque”), there’s surprising beat switches and the coke metaphors never run thin (“Sent sixty pounds of Walter White to White Plains”). “Half Manne Half Cocaine” embodies a bulk of these traits, the slick quotables in an abundance as well (“Crack numbin’ up my fingertips / Pullin’ strings with my pinkie rings”). “Fake Names” sounds like an old-school mafioso theme song before abruptly switching masks, packing verbal pictures to the canvases. There are so many ideas to spare that these song structures are more than justified.

While Piñata was dark and intense, Bandana is its smooth counterpart. Madlib’s beats are oil paintings that Gibbs writes the captions for. Gibbs’ bars continue to be relentless, except this time Madlib administers a nonchalant backdrop to the tales. Several tracks occupy that realm, taking listeners to an Italian beach living the retired life rather than the drug-dealing corner spot (“Gat Damn”, “Soul Right”). The sparkling “Crime Pays” sees the best marriage of Madlib’s beats and Gibbs’ bars, Freddie gradually adding bricks to the foundation of his flow through impeccable cadence. There’s the contrast of Gibbs’ husky voice to Madlib’s soulful beats that feels like it can never get old.

The guest appearances on Bandana are far less generous than Piñata but much more calculated. Pusha T brings his best pen game on the coke connoisseur collaboration “Palmolive”, always finding a new way to illustrate his criminal past (“My coke hand is still sketchin’ out my memoirs”). “Education” is a rap fan’s dream, stressing the dying art of lyrical sparring with a couple of the greatest MCs of all-time. Yasiin Bey, aka Mos Def touches on history and morality before Black Thought blows competing rhyme schemes out of the park (“The system we compete against is farm to table hand / Pickin’ them ingredients, civil disobedience / Encyclopedia, definition of greediness”).

Notably, there are not many hard-hitting offerings on Bandana like a “Shitsville” or “Thuggin'”. The exception is “Flat Tummy Tea”, a perfect song to bridge the Piñata era and Bandana era. The rapping is mind-blowing, matched with flawless double-time flows and wordplay to flex on Gibb’s competitors. Bandana misses a couple more of these gems to brings its potential full circle.

Piñata takes the lead for songs with greater personality, however Bandana takes greater pride in its laidback production and experimentation. It is a formula that continues to evolve, resulting in a brilliant hip hop album from the fraternal twins of rap.

Rating: 8.5 / 10

Best tracks: “Flat Tummy Tea”, “Crime Pays”, “Giannis”, “Fake Names”, “Half Manne Half Cocaine”, “Cataracts”, “Palmolive”, “Education”