A lot has happened in the five years since Piñata was released. The sound of music and the state of the recording industry has changed drastically. The fact Freddie and Madlib, two independent creatives, signed a record deal with RCA’s Keep Cool for the release of Bandana speaks volumes. Releasing the project on a major label places further emphasis on just how big this project is.
Bandana isn’t just another weekly rap event; this is two Gladiators once again entering the Colosseum. They know why anticipation surrounds this moment. When you set the bar, you must live up to it. The bar is high for the latest from MadGibbs. Can they hit the mark?
In usual 1-Listen album review fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
A voice. A voice who needs a beer. Me too, buddy. Very lush of you, Madlib. This is a soft intro. Another voice just said Freddie Gibbs’ name. Not sure what he’s saying.
2. "Freestyle S**t"
This one begins with a warning. That’s very kind of them. I love how Bandana is taking its time to get started. It means the music must be worth waiting for. “Kane season.” Here we go! The sample just came in, and the horns are blowing, MadGibbs is officially back! Already, this feels like a grandiose, dope boy album. Love the Usher line; I’m a sucker for Confessions bars. Give me an entire album of Freddie reminiscing on his early career. The vinyl pop texture is what I’m here for. You can hear the dust from the records that Madlib is sampling. The horns have such a beautiful blare; such a glorious loop. Glorious. I’m ready to rewind this one.
3. "Half Manne Half Cocaine"
Madlib is giving Gibbs the uncut raw. It’s snowing cocaine snowflakes in my ear canal while my head spins. This flow is as nasty as being coughed on in a doctor’s office. This beat! Ahhh! The percussion is belligerent. So many textures. This is music that would soundtrack a modern day Scarface film. Beat switch! This change-up is dirty enough to be quarantined. John Wick line. I don’t know if it’s the mix, but man, this sounds grimy as RZA’s basement after the flood. Damn, Gibbs is paying for funerals and kissing the wife of a man he killed. Ice in his veins. “Half manne, half cocaine.” Gibbs, if you’re reading this, we need the music video for “Half Manne Half Cocaine” to be Terrence Howard in the kitchen whipping up bricks with OJ The Juiceman.
4. “Crime Pays”
Madlib doesn’t disappoint. As soon as his beats come on, they strike you right in the heart. So warm, so lush. I love the soulfulness. I’m getting Piñata flashbacks. The sample is singing. It’s the opposite vocal tone of Gibbs, yet, they coexist so well. Gibbs sounds comfortable on every beat. He is running LAPS! The fast flow. He knows how to use it in such an effective way. He does not mumble, every word counts. Is that a Jeezy line? Ahhh, I need to rewind. He’s still shooting at Snow after all these years. Oh, it’s not over! Madlib switched it up at the last second.
5. “Massage Seats”
Bandana is moving at its own pace. I like the randomness. All these little plot twists throughout the main story. I have no idea what’s going to happen next. This loop! Gibbs’ voice is barking above the loop with an arresting force. “This ain’t for soccer moms,” yes, yes, yes. That first verse! Laughing at Freddie sleeping with R&B starlets with platinum plaques. I never imagined Freddie with someone famous enough to be on Love & Hip-Hop. He's in a zone! Freddie isn't wasting a single bar; this is a seasoned rapper reaching a new prime. Damn, that DMX bar! My face is melting.
6. “Palmolive” ft. Pusha-T & Killer Mike
Oh! The way Madlib chopped this! This man is the Bruce Lee of sampling. He's making kung fu art with music. So, so soulful. Angels are hovering over me, crying tears of joy. Gibbs with a Johnny Blaze verse. Mentioned Trump by saying we have a reality star in the office like the Reagan days. This is rapping! Killer Mike is here! This is an event! His vocal tone is perfect for this beat. Pusha! The angels have brought out all their Pyrex. Pusha is on a feature streak. “Way more chemical than political.” I’m lifting off the ground. He just mentioned Obama. “Are you Alpo or Mitch, nigga?” There is so much to come back to. I wish Killer Mike had a verse. He’s great on the hook, though. A skit at the end. LMAO.
7. "Fake Names"
Great rap is a beautiful, beautiful thing. This album is hitting all the right buttons. Slower, menacing vibes. Storytelling Gibbs is always a favorite of mine. These details are great. “Fake Names” is an audio movie. Freddie Gibbs and Pusha-T need to get together and write a modern-day drug kingpin feature film. The streets need it. The beat just switched, and the tears are flowing. What a seamless change-up. Gibbs didn’t stumble a single bar. It’s an evolving beat. All these years and Freddie still makes these real-life raps compelling. I can’t wait for the trap to catch up and sonically bring back soul beats. I’m not sure what language this closing skit is in. Japanese?
8. “Flat Tummy Tea”
This song is ridiculous! It’s just ominous. The production sounds like stepping into a haunted trap house that smells like dead bodies and baking soda. I love how charged up Gibbs sounds. He’s a giant, rapping like there isn’t anyone able to stand against him. There’s a presence he has; larger than life, a man with the power of a bulldozer. The switch-up calms things down. It’s the rainbow after the flaming meteor shower. So many bars! “Took the sword and knocked white Jesus off the white horse.”
Oh yeah! Madlib laced him with the knock. Gibbs is in his melodic bag. The flow is a hockey puck sliding across ice glaciers. This is a nice switch-up. There are so many styles in Freddie’s palette. Bandana feels like getting a new season of The Wire without the cops’ perspective. I have to play this one back. Sounds like he’s throwing a lot of history in it. The day Obama was elected, he was arrested? Man, the flow is so fast! There's so much life in these verses. The little skits at the end of each song also are giving the music a nice texture. It’s just a lot of flavor. And these skits are funny.
10. “Giannis” ft. Anderson .Paak
Wooo! Madlib cooked up a beat dirtier than the fingernails of a meth addict. I have to take a shower after this review. Freddie watching Dora the Explorer with his daughter is hilarious. .Paak! Why the hell did he not have any Madlib beats on his Aftermath debut? The real G’s move in silence like Giannis bar is why Wayne is forever a legend. .Paak sounds excellent. Over the right beat, his rapping voice is impeccable. Oh yes! With the harmonies in the background! Give me a mixtape of .Paak raps over filthy loops. What a combination of talent. This album doesn’t stop moving.
Slowing things up. Freddie isn’t taking any songs off. He’s a rap locomotive. Another story record about a woman. Reminds me of “Deeper.” The sincerity in his voice is great. I love when he does these kinds of records. Man, he was going through it. “Nothing more important than your baby.” It sounds like Freddie was stumbling and not too proud to admit it. So much honesty in this second verse. Introspective Gibbs is undefeated. Man, this second verse is like his “Dear Summer,” the way he talks about breaking up with the streets. The Pokémon bar made me smile. Sheesh, he’s good. So good. “We talking about practice.”
I’m more impressed he’s still going rather than feeling the album is long. I’m not tired of the project at all. Freddie isn't phoning in a single verse. Freddie still has so much to say. He’s enjoying this; there’s passion in his voice that can’t be faked. I'm not crazy about the hook, but it's growing on me quickly. Man! This second verse! Full body rapping. I’m ready to rewind the entire album, and I still have three more songs. Beat switch! Madlib is a magician. There’s no other explanation.
13. “Gat Damn”
A nice switch-up. This is wavy. Another melodic performance. I like what he’s doing with his voice. Gibbs is aware of what works. He approaches every song with a vision. He keeps things interesting. “I guess life ain’t perfect.” Surprised this wasn’t a single. Musically, this one works in a contemporary sense. The “yeah, yeah” delivery screams 2019. Excellent record.
14. “Education” ft. Yasiin Bey & Black Thought
Spanish? I think she spoke Spanish. These keys! Yasiin’s voice! OH! He’s rapping! His voice fills you with that good feeling. Mach-Hommy reminds me of Yasiin, but there’s nothing like a good Yasiin verse. Black Thought was tagged and came in swinging. He is legendary! If any rapper had the skill set necessary to teach a college course on lyricism, it’s Professor Black Thought. I don’t know how much he makes for a verse, but he's worth every penny. Gibbs is closing this one out. Another Trump jab. I’m enjoying this trifecta immensely. “Drugs for the free, souls sold separately.”
15. “Soul Right”
We are at the end of this adventure. What a ride it has been. Let’s close out strong, Kane. He’s taking his time to get this one started. A smooth, laid-back flow. Oh yeah, this is the victory stride. So many bars. “I can’t hold no grudges, my hands are too busy catching blessings.” His mom was a mail lady? A nice, fun fact. He just mentioned Harold’s, more Piñata nostalgia. This is the end credits for a movie about a drug dealer who became a superhero. A closing beat. This sound is not from this galaxy.
Final (First Listen) Thoughts on Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s Bandana:
Listening to Freddie Gibbs rap is like watching a professional athlete perform. Bandana is jaw-dropping from start to finish. On first listen, Gibbs makes clear he's reached a new potency. There’s a sharpness to each line, and a focus behind every delivery that leaves a starry-eyed impression; this isn’t a rapper in a new bag, but a rapper reborn.
Freddie Gibbs rebirth is a direct result of Madlib’s wizardry. What the veteran producer accomplishes on Bandana should be illegal in conservative states. How he stretches and flips and transforms samples is the equivalent of performing alchemy in a dope house. Madlib is, much like Gibbs, becoming more compelling with age. That’s a rare contrast between two collaborators. It’s not uncommon in duos for one member to age like wine, while the other becomes sour grapes. That’s not the case here.
Bandana feels realistic, yet surreal. Like if Peter Pan could meet Al Capone, or if Frank Lucas lived in the Reagan and Trump era. Bandana is the perfect rabbit hole for the rap fans who desire a wonderland that Alice wouldn’t dare to enter. Bandana is the definition of dope boy magic. Real magic.