The unlikely but undeniable duo of Freddie Gibbs and Madlib first blew minds with 2014’s Piñata. Skilled gangsta rapper met sample sorcerer, and suddenly one and one made a lot more than two.
The album made plenty of year-end lists and was quickly understood as uncharted territory for hip-hop. For five years fans awaited the sequel to this cocaine cult classic, which has finally arrived in the form of Bandana.
“Golden State the roster / my garage deep,” Gibbs spits on “Massage Seats,” over a typically arcane Madlib dancehall sample. This rhyme is simply about luxury, but given that several other lyrical moments on Bandana are flushed with gravity, let’s conclude that Freddie is still rapping with intention here. In that case, what are his thematic intentions? And since when does a Madlib song sound like this?
Piñata was certainly the sound of two worlds colliding, and they manage to reemploy that element of surprise on the sequel. Few Madlib die-hards could have imagined him making beats to for modern NBA references and car-show bragging, but the implausibility is precisely what makes this tandem effort so explosive.
The braggadocio lyric in question would be a common crutch for rappers lacking personality, but Freddie Kane smoothly seasons overused rap tropes with clever wordplay and technical proficiency, as Madlib makes his fingertips heard with exotic beats that add color and contrast.
Subsequent lines about serving “Earl Simmons (DMX, crack cocaine)” so “all his dawgs (more DMX imagery)” can eat, and keeping a “.44 bulldog” that bites, further Freddie’s commitment to wearing used tropes inside out.
As symbolized by the zebra imagery on both projects, contrast is the key to the Gibbs’ and ‘Lib’s chemistry. Difference is the means for emphasis.
Creatively speaking, Bandana’s most clear and striking juxtapositions occur within the eight half-songs and four beat switches contained in “Half Manne, Half Cocaine,” “Fake Names,” “Flat Tummy Tea” and “Cataracts.”
“Half Manne, Half Cocaine” pivots from straight-up trap joint in part one to reggae jam in part two. Madlib fans never saw a trap beat coming from him, but again, the unusual is tastefully weaponized. Madlib was wise to hedge this naturally vexing idea with a sure-fire finish.
As a song title, “Half Manne, Half Cocaine” represents the recipe for Bandana: Freddie is “Manne,” and Madlib is “Cocaine.” The rapper is a focused voice of humanity, while the beatmaker lives in addicting soundscapes that tether listeners to the music.
At any given moment, Freddie Gibbs is one thing and the Beat Konducta is something different, but like loaded par of dice this combination relentlessly comes up even.
Five years since their last ride, Bandana sounds liberated from the legacy of its predecessor. The track list is slimmer. New risks are taken. Guest appearances are fewer, but each feature—Pusha T and Killer Mike on “Palmolive,” Anderson .Paak on “Giannis,” Yasiin Bey and Black Thought on “Education”—is perfectly spliced.
In short: the MadGibbs formula is impervious to pressure. Both parties know who they are, where they’ve been, and, as a duo, what they can become.
Bandana is effortless in appearance, and near-flawless in execution. The eyeball test from this pundit says that Freddie and Madlib have never sounded better. After decades of combined relevancy, rapper and producer are working at their respective peaks, and it feels like they’re just getting their footing in this series.
The third motion picture in this trilogy, we hear, will be called Montana. Even if it take another five years to make, timeless art deserves a pass on time restraints.