When Freddie Gibbs and Madlib first announced their unconventional partnership back in 2011 it was unclear as to how both artists would reconcile the creative and geographic disparities that existed between them.
One was an up-and-coming rapper from Gary, Indiana, yet to release his first full-length album and the other, one of the most prolific and critically acclaimed hip-hop producers of the 2000s.
However, 2014’s Piñata was a tour de force of funk-fusion and jazz classicism all mixed with the honest cynicism of Gibbs’ lyrics, all of which prefigured it as an instant classic and at the very least one of the best hip-hop albums of the decade.
Now over five years since the release of their seminal debut, Bandana is an album which is recognisably cut from the same cloth as its predecessor.
One of the greatest strengths of the MadGibbs collaboration is the extent to which both artists are able to express and distinguish their distinct artistic personalities. This could be felt throughout Piñata and is just as present across Bandana.
Gibbs’ world-weary prophetic pessimism is ever-present across the album, his distinctive growl railing throughout. Having written the majority of his lyrics in prison in Austria following the sexual assault charges levied against him during 2016 (of which he has now been fully acquitted), Gibbs is often oppressively cynical. Consequently, the album is at once reflective and mournful and serves as perhaps the most honest and contemplative portfolio of the rapper's mind to date.
Conversely, Madlib remains resolutely playful, the direct counterpoint to Gibbs’ jaded introspection, he creates comedic space across the album whilst working tangentially across genres and ideas in a way that is obviously and instantly dexterous.
Surprisingly, and unlike its predecessor, Bandana isn’t an album loaded with guest spots; in fact, there are only three on the album. Featuring collaborations from Killer Mike, Pusha T, Yasiin Bey & Anderson .Paak, Bandana feels sharper than Piñata, like Gibbs and Madlib are giving themselves room to breathe, space in which to explore their thematic and darker goals. Subsequently the record feels far more artistically complete, working effectively as a creative snapshot of the two artists as they were in 2019.
The album is also host to some of the best work that MadGibbs have given birth to since they began their partnership. The hook-laden "Giannis" stands out as an immediate highlight whilst "Palmolive" rings of an instant classic, resplendent in smoky backing vocals and soft jazzy instrumentation.
In many ways, Bandana is very much the record that people will be expecting. It is an exceptional modern hip-hop album unafraid of exploring the darker sides of the modern rap persona, all whilst creating a rich, textured sonic environment within which it can be best ingested. The album already sounds timeless; when an early sample provocatively suggests that “the surgeon general has determined that the sounds you are about hear will always be devastating to your ear”, it becomes hard to offer up any opposition.