Album Review: Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, Bandana

bandana

Freddie Gibbs and Madlib

Bandana (released June 28, 2019)

Check out this tweet from Gangsta Gibbs:

If you’re talking that big, you better deliver. But Gibbs has never been one to disappoint.

Gary, Indiana’s own found amazing chemistry with producer Madlib on their 2014 project Pinata, one of the more notable outings of that year. Since that time, Gibbs has grown even stronger as a rapper, putting all eyes on “MadGibbs” for their sophomore outing.

And amazingly, everything you loved about Pinata is taken to the next level on Bandana. The bars are harder. The production even more magnificent. And the duo’s chemistry is undeniable.

Gibbs jumps right in on the dusty, horn-laden “Freestyle S***,” taking us back to the days “when this music s*** wasn’t movin’, man/I said I might as well be movin’ thangs.” Make no  mistake, this is coke rap through and through, with Madlib’s beats serving as the background for Gibbs’ tales.

When it comes to production, the beats here are among  Madlib’s best. The soundscape flips halfway through “Half Manne Half Cocaine,” going from pseudo-trap to a symphony of scattered cymbals. “Fake Names” takes a similar approach, going from gutter to glamour by the track’s end. And “Crime Pays” glides along with an elegant sample of Walter Burr’s “Free Spirits.” Freddie’s usually too busy destroying the track to take notice, weaving introspection among his braggadocious bars: “Diamonds in my chain, yeah, I slang but I’m still a slave/Twisted in the system, just a number listed on the page.”

And that’s what elevates Bandana over the usual drug raps about money n’ mayhem. Gibbs incorporates life lessons and empowerment that make this much deeper than rap.

On “Practice”  Gibbs recounts his mistake of clinging to infidelity while also trying to build a family and maintain his street hustle. “How I’m gonna break up with the streets?/I got the questions but I can’t find the answers,” he ponders while trying to serve three masters. Those answers are left up to the listener to find.

Meanwhile, Freddie hops into the psychiatrist’s chair on “Cataracts,” opening up with a stream of consciousness flow that tackles the cycle of death and the glory of birth in half a verse:

F*** Generation X, this generation genocide
Your social stat make you fantasize about a homicide
To me, the God Allah is the black man personified
Anticipating and killin’ my own in search of wealth
Should he come knockin’ at the door of your home, you know, for death
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

Gibbs and Madlib aren’t alone on this odyssey. Pusha T comes through to absolutely blister “Palmolive” (“These scars are the only real proof they couldn’t kill god”) and while Killer Mike is great handling the hook, I wish he could have laid a verse too. Anderson Paak adds his signature soul to “Giannis” and while the thought of Gibbs, Yasiin Bey and Black Thought on the same track should be an epic event, “Education” proves to be the album’s lone weak spot. While the bars are definitely strong and rehashing Nas’ “Bonjour” sample from last year’s Nasir album was a cool surprise, the poor mixing REALLY hurts the atmosphere, as does the abrupt silence between verses. It sounds like they recorded the thing in a can of black eyed peas.

Don’t worry, the goodwill is immediately restored with the album closer “Soul Right,” which serves as a defiant reminder of perseverance:  “Know that they won’t prosper but the devil still gon’ form the weapon/I can’t hold no grudges, my hands is too busy catching blessings.”

Bandana is indeed the career blessing Gibbs has been waiting for – the record that finally vaults him to the top of rap’s upper echelon.

It’s funny: Gibbs’ album of the year tweet isn’t just prophetic, it’s also kinda short-sighted.

Not only is Bandana the best album of 2019 so far, it’s one of the best hip-hop records of the decade. Period.

Best tracks: “Crime Pays,” “Cataracts,” “Palmolive”

4.5 stars out of 5

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