The new dynamic duo
The duo, composed of rap artist Freddie Gibbs and DJ/producer Madlib, released their second collaborative studio length project, Bandana, earlier this year. Since its release in June, the album has achieved critical acclaim across the board, being declared rap album of the year by HypeBeast and Spotify’s own Rap Caviar, receiving a mention in NPR‘s “10 Albums That Raised the Bar(s) In 2019” and ultimately peaking at number twenty-one on the Billboard chart. Since the release of their first studio album, Piñata, in 2014, fans have been itching for the return of their wholly unique sound.
As a writer, Gibbs has never been one to shy away from the harsh realities of life. In fact, it could be argued he makes every effort to ensure that listeners feel that ruthlessness through his words. Gibbs’ lyrical introduction comes on the album’s second track, “Freestyle Shit.” In this track, Gibbs lays down the complex foundation of his life history—brick by brick. “Freestyle Shit” serves as an incredibly powerful title track, in that it provides listeners the opportunity to get to know Gibbs on an extremely deep and personal level. This track does not tiptoe around the graphic hardships that come along with one’s journey to success and instead provides listeners with a more complete picture of where Gibbs is ultimately coming from, both lyrically and personally. “Freestyle Shit” ultimately serves as an extremely powerful prologue to the remainder of the album.
Whereas former Madlib collaborator, and fellow MC, Daniel Dumile (MADVILLAIN, MF DOOM, Viktor Vaughn, King Ghidorah), brought to the table East Coast flavor and a slew of razor-sharp quips, Gibbs turns up the heat with his bombastic 1-2 punch that hits like cinderblocks. Gibbs’ verses strike quick with thematic elements that surround his hometown, selling and using drugs, fatherhood, politics, vengeance, and really just making it out alive. Gibbs is a man of strong opinions and divisive statements. His uncompromising flow leaves no time for questions. Gibbs’ performance is almost reminiscent of a pastor preaching a powerful sermon: his word is law and no one dare challenge him.
Though it may not show through in every track, Gibbs’ lyrics are often highly politicized, yet tend to present these issues in a vernacular that any listener could catch on to. In “Flat Tummy Tea,” Gibbs addresses the use of the slave trade as a mechanism of America’s capitalist agenda as well as providing commentary on the insanity of our country’s current state of affairs. On tracks such as “Situations” and “Practice,” Gibbs affords listeners a glimpse into the headspace that he himself struggles with on a daily basis as a man attempting to navigate the turmoil of a new life. These lyrics serve as a reminder that the past is forever a part of what makes someone who they are. However, this being said, Gibbs is not afraid to have a little fun as well — in line with the persona Gibb’s presents on his various social media accounts—perpetually incorporating humorous elements and witty jabs at public figures, his close friends and audiences alike.
However, Gibbs is not the only player in this game. Despite being a master of his craft in his own right, Gibbs shows genuine respect and admiration for the pedigree of his partner, unrivaled by any rapper-producer duo. In a recent interview with Billboard, Gibbs discussed his rise to success and the appreciation he has for his partner’s invaluable contributions to Bandana’s triumph, stating, “I want to be up there with the top-echelon rappers because that’s what the f-ck I am. Madlib gives me the ingredients, and I make the gumbo.”
Madlib—a prolific California-born producer, recognized most iconically for his compositional role in 2004s MF DOOM crossover, Madvillainy — is clearly no stranger to the “collab” game. A pioneer in the sound of 2000s underground, as well as mainstream, hip-hop, Madlib has had a hand in the production of a number of memorable projects, including the embodiment of his pseudonym and alter ego, rapper Quasimoto. Madlib’s unique tracks/compositions often incorporate the use of jazzy instrumentals, hard-hitting kicks, low-fi recording techniques, and a slew of colorful sound bites and samples. This particular mixture has, in many ways, become a trademark of Madlib’s skilled productions — and Bandana is no different. Nearly every track on this album either begins and/or ends with some type of non-musical sample, whether it be the multilingual automaton (whose presence remains a constant throughout the album), a seemingly random clip from some older media source, or Gibbs, himself, ad-libbing a few comedic lines.
Viewing the productions from a purely musical perspective, Madlib has the incredible ability to produce flawless track so inconspicuously that the artist may have full reign to take center stage and embody the sound they sought to achieve. When viewed from a cultural perspective, it becomes clear that what Madlib ultimately brings to the table within projects such as this, is the ability to truly showcase the style and skill of an artist. His ability to mold the tracks to his collaborator’s personal style and flow is unmatched in the industry. This skill is highlighted within the tracks like “Fake Names,” where Madlib completely flips the beat on its head halfway through the song, right in the midst of Gibbs’ flow; and yet neither man misses a single beat. Madlib has never been one who is concerned with the newest, hottest thing, but rather the right thing for an artist at that point and time—even admitting in a tweet shortly after the album’s release that Bandana’s now world-renowned instrumentals were initially composed on his home iPad. Madlib is a master of his craft and deserves nothing less than a partner of equal talent, such as Gibbs.
In coming to release Bandana, Gibbs and Madlib have proven themselves to be one of the most influential rapper-producer duos since, well… MF DOOM and Madlib. Gibb’s hard-nosed flows hold nothing back as he dominates track after track of classic, yet wholly fresh, Madlib productions. With heavy-hitting features including artists Anderson .Paak, Killer Mike, Pusha-T, Yassin Bey and Blackthough, this album truly has it all. Furthermore, the undeniable skill of these artists comes on full display as the album accomplishes the nearly impossible task of fluidly transitioning between thematic elements of real tragedy and a healthy serving of comedy. Madlib’s production skills are sound bite laden with jazz rhythms that go unmatched, as each new beat paves a new path for Gibbs to lay down his stone-cold flow.
All in all, Bandana serves as powerful proof that real hip-hop is not dead nor dying. It is alive and well and evolving every day in studios and venues around the world. Though classic genres may be falling somewhat idly to the wayside as new forms and styles emerge, it is important to look to those who are pushing the genres forward in positive ways; and to support those artists in any way possible.