Fashionably Late: A Belated Review on Freddie Gibbs' & Madlib's Bandana

 Evan Dale // Dec 2, 2019 

When it comes to a career as long, acclaimed, and influential as Freddie Gibbs, superlatives start seeming particularly superfluous. The Gary, Indiana legend has earned a career comfortable in its complacency and idyllic in its timelessness. But that sort of still-working retirement never even crossed Freddie Gibbs’ mind. The superflousness of superlatives aside, his 2019 album, Bandana – the thirteenth full-length project to his decade-long canon – might seriously be his best. And if no outright one project could ever take such an expansive cake, Bandana is a testament of his still-evolving obsession with not only staying relevant but staying influential.


At this point, especially with Madlib by his side, he’s borderline omnipotent. A true overlord of a tradition that few in his lane have ever had more say in, Gibbs was a permanent installation of the hip-hop cloth long before Bandana was released in June of this year. And with it, he continues his case as perhaps one of the best, and certainly one of the most wide-ranging to ever do it. 


The cut-throat delivery; the raspy register; the cocaine dealer antics are still very much a driving force in Bandana’s greater delineation. What kind of Freddie Gibbs project would it be without its bread and baking soda? But, Bandana is stricken by something different. An affinity for funk; a successful exploration in genre transcendence makes it the exception for established veterans trying their hand at something new. And that’s the mark of a true artist – a timeless artist. 


Definitely a mark of Madlib’s effect on Freddie Gibbs getting down with his groovy self, tracks like Crime Pays mark a healthy balance between lyricism flooded by the obvious yet done with an sing-songy delivery overtop and unexpectedly danceable beat. A similar bit of Madlib production – instilled with old-timey vocal samples and funk strife – sets the stage for fellow legends, Pusha T and Killer Mike to make Palmolive another transcendent hip-hop anthem unexpected and unexplored by few in hip-hop, yet alone a rapper with a reputation as harsh and high-energy as Freddie Gibbs and friends. 


Further explorations in funk and vocalism come in obvious form when Anderson .Paak grabs the mic in Giannis. The modern king of genre transcendence and hip-hop seamlessly transitioning between funk, jazz, soul, and rock – has no problem taking risks alongside Freddie Gibbs. Together, Gibbs continues his exploration of a funkier lane while .Paak cuts it a little closer to a classic hip-hop delivery, dropping one of the more memorable and thought-provoking verse in the whole album.


But, if the funk and the danceability peaks anywhere on the album, it’s near Bandana’s end with Gat Damn. The track is particularly standout. Aside from being a Freddie Gibbs track, it’s hard to find anything else that even makes it hip-hop. Freddie Gibbs sings – and sings well – to a beat driven instrumentally by organic drums and moving keystrokes. Describing the harshness of a criminal-justice system that leaves Gibbs separated from his friends behind bars, he explores his newfound knack at vocalism to appeal to emotionality from start to finish. And as if the track wasn’t enough of a surprise, it comes with an exceptionally hilarious video that sees Gibbs and his crew clad in zebra, taking stage at a low budget, late 70’s disco. 


But at the end of the day, it’s not the unexpectedness that make tracks like Palmolive, Giannis, and Gat Damn so worth discussing. It’s that, in collaboration with a signature lane of intensive lyricism and flow that drives equally Bandana’s entirety; and in collaboration with legends of the past, present and future, Freddie Gibbs continues his legendary career as a rapper and begins a second one as something else altogether different. 


Bandana’s range is a symbol of Gibbs’ understanding that a modern music scene that prioritizes transcendence above almost all else has taken the reigns. But, Bandana’s quality and a complete lack of anything being forced is a testament to just how talented he’s always been and how willing he is to explore the depth of that talent beyond what he’s always been known to be. 


And before we go, a certain amount of credit also needs to be thrown Madlib’s way. 50%, in fact. The art of the collaboration is a challenging one to master. And the balance required for a producer and a rapper to make such inventive and experimental album, is uncanny and unparalleled without mentioning iconic names like Gang Starr. Bandana is the duo’s second album. Piñata was the first. And it – like Bandana– is an outrageously important addition not only to hip-hop but to music as a whole.


Madlib’s production – strewn with perfectly integrated samples – gives Freddie Gibbs a shot of life and the creative courage to explore an as-of-now unexplored lane while also divulging in a signature that has made him one of the most important figures in hip-hop over the past decade. And together, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib are musical geniuses, and Bandana is an undeniable masterpiece.