Freddie Gibbs and Madlib bottle lightning a second time with Bandana, a successful follow-up to their critically acclaimed 2014 collaboration Piñata.
Lightning is a misnomer here because there was no luck involved – this is an intelligently crafted masterpiece by two of hip hop’s brightest. Madlib may be the most respected producer in hip hop today, plying his trade in soulful and jazzy deep cut beats that can pull even subpar projects out of the mire, let alone inspired efforts like this one.
Freddie Gibbs meanwhile boasts one of the smoothest and most dexterous flows among current rappers. This is decidedly more Gibbs’ album than Madlib’s as he waxes lyrical on wealth, women, and the cut-throat nature of the rap game. His rapping is consistently top tier, at times mindbending. He can be ridiculously fast if needs be but spares it, saving it for brief machine-gun turns on tracks like Situations. Meanwhile his delivery on Cataracts balances speed and flow, silken yet breathless and a pleasure to listen to.
Gibbs is no angel, having recently served jail time and surviving a shooting back in 2014. It would be a lie to say his lyricism is life-affirming stuff, but its streetwise nihilism hits hard. He’s hardly apologetic, yet around the edges there’s a sobering self-awareness of the realities of the drug game. Nowhere is it better exemplified than in Crime Pays, with the line, “Diamonds in my chain, yeah, I slang but I’m still a slave/ Twisted in the system, just a number listed on the page.” The track is an album highlight, boasting a brilliant jazz sample from Walt Barr’s Free Spirits, Madlib turning the original’s sunny optimism on its head.
It’s one of the more overt Madlib touches on the album, as his production often takes a backseat to Gibbs here. Yet it’s still high-class: witness the strings on Gat Damn, the unpredictable broken piano and swelling vocals on Education, sad horns on Soul Right and the Bollywood cut-ups on Giannis. The latter track is a contender for hip hop song of the year, with a great verse and haunting chorus vocal from Anderson .Paak. Other guest spots also fascinate, like Killer Mike’s memorable turn on Palmolive. The pacing of the album is also well-considered with moods and tempos balanced perfectly and even changing throughout the same song such as the interesting switch on Fake Names from hard rap banger to flute-driven trap tune.
This is a must for hip hop fans. Understated but classy beats, gritty lyrics and inimitable delivery make this one of the finer gangsta rap albums of the last few years.