Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
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Although Freddie Gibbs made a habit of rapping over a wide variety of beat textures prior to his critically-hailed 2014 Piñata collaboration with subdued, subterranean producer Madlib, that LP was a bit of a surprise to those who assumed his reality-based tales of straight gangsterism wouldn’t mesh with Madlib’s notoriously thick jungle of esoteric sample sources. After definitively demonstrating his ability to rhyme with aplomb over any track or against any opponent, Gibbs and ‘Lib migrate from the honeymoon to the stability phase of their musical relationship with Bandana.
From the outset, it’s clear that Freddie Gibbs has nothing left to prove, allowing himself to relax and get mellifluous while reminiscing and introducing the album’s themes atop the royal entrance-worthy horn fanfare and warbling bass of “Freestyle S***.” Rather than challenging himself with odd and oddly-paced instrumentals like Piñata’s “Scarface,” “S***sville,” or “Uno,” Gibbs tests himself by seamlessly navigating multiple mid-track beat switches that often force him to readjust both his patterns and narrative perspectives.
“Fake Names” sees Gibbs transitioning from a harrowing street story to bragging about the carnal spoils of war, with Madlib slyly sampling a separate section of the same Sylvers’ song as the preceding “Palmolive.” The radio-ready snare rolls and drug-game boasts of the first half of “Half Manne Half Cocaine” that would’ve fit perfectly on last year’s more trap-thick and nihilistic Freddie give way to something far more sinister and threatening during the back half.
Yes, that’s right, a Madlib trap beat. Where the duo’s last effort saw Gibbs effortlessly adapting to the Beat Konducta’s strange ways, Bandana reverses the paradigm, with the producer serving sounds that feel more tailored to the rapper’s traditional aesthetic.
Gibbs sounds right at home on the creeping bounce of “Situations,” where he conjures a dizzying array of Krayzie Bone-inspired flows to meditate on the role of drugs in his life. Peep the second verse’s opening: “1989, I seen a nigga bleed / Uncle stabbed him in the neck, he hit his knees / Turned the arcade to a stampede / I was playing Pac-Man, Centipede / Put me on some shit I never should've seen / Robbing, killing, drug dealing in my genes.”
While his drug-addled uncle Greg “Big Time” Watts (who passed away in 2017) unwittingly played the comic relief role on numerous Freddie Gibbs projects, here, he serves as a sobering example of addiction’s cyclical nature. Gibbs knows this traumatic childhood incident exposed him to the violence-soaked horrors of drug abuse, but couldn’t resist the lure of leaning into the lifestyle that likely led him to participate in similar acts as a drug dealer. He concludes the verse with a deftly concise take on the syndrome: “When my daddy ran over Eddie with the motorcycle / He ain't been that nigga since / Seen him transform to Crackhead Ed / ‘I got twenty, Fred, can I get a hit?’”
Though similarly astute observations are sprinkled throughout Bandana, Gibbs saves some of his most revelatory writing for the album’s final third, beginning with the confessional “Practice.” In tandem with an appropriately longing and regretful Donny Hathaway sample, he blames his philandering and drug use for the dissolution of his long-term relationship with his daughter’s mother, in a verse that could’ve easily been a guest rap feature on Hathaway’s original (“Make It On Your Own”), were rap guest features an actual thing in 1975.
The lush “Teach Me How” loop of “Cataracts” coaxes this reflective gem: “Seem like my actions was devil sent, I can't sympathize / Fuck Generation X, this generation genocide / Your social stat make you fantasize about a homicide / To me, the God Allah is the Black man personified…Knew The Lord was in the room when my daughter took her first breath / Cold turkey on the dope, had to gain the knowledge of self.”
“Gat Damn” finds Gibbs melodically recalling his dreams of wealth and freedom while imprisoned in Austria in 2016 (where he wrote much of this album) over Madlib’s uncharacteristically crisp and smooth sound bed, which leads into the Yasiin Bey and Black Thought-featured “Education,” where each emcee details a sequential segment of the school-to-prison pipeline that awaits so many Black women and men. Here, we encounter one of Bandana’s very few missteps, with unnecessarily muffled and echo-heavy vocals that undermine the piece’s poignancy.
By the time you reach the soaring synths and clap snares of the album-closing “Soul Right,” it feels like a well-earned victorious bop into the sunset, with our narrator declaring “I can't hold no grudges, my hands is too busy catching blessings.” Despite all he’s seen and done, Freddie Gibbs appears to be ready for a new, less tumultuous life phase, and the two men occasionally known as MadGibbs have successfully graduated from rapper and beat maker to full-blown synergistic duo who naturally bring out the best in each other.
Notable Tracks: "Cataracts" | “Crime Pays” | "Gat Damn" | “Palmolive”