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Freddie Gibbs and Madlib go 2 for 2 with the head-spinning Bandana

Photo: Nick Walker

Toward the end of Bandana, Freddie Gibbs does something uncharacteristic. “I remember, I was on bail and shit,” he says, and then the beat starts to fade. “Damn, beat ran out. Fuck it, that’s enough right there.” It’s a rare moment of abstinence for Gibbs, a rapper who, now a decade into his career, has established himself as one of the most word-drunk rappers this side of Aesop Rock. Since he first emerged across a pair of 2009 mixtapes, Gibbs has been defined by his auto-fire flow, the galaxy-sized pocket in which he operates. Wind Gibbs up and watch him spit bars, croon hooks, talk shit, lament; he could find the two and four on an Autechre beat. This was part of the appeal behind Piñata, his first odd-couple collaboration with Madlib: hearing someone as grounded and relentless as Gibbs barrel through the storied producer’s hallucinatory beats. The result was kaleidoscopic, infectious, bursting with strange sounds and flows and top-of-their-game emcees keeping up. It still sounds revelatory in 2019.

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Bandana may not be better, but it’s good enough that people will claim that it is. Its back story is no less mythic than its predecessor’s: Madlib teased its existence in early 2016, saying it would contain beats rejected from Kanye West’s Life Of Pablo sessions. While in the process of writing to them, Gibbs was arrested in Austria on sexual assault charges from which he was ultimately acquitted. He completed these verses in his cell in Austria, the beats spooling out in his memory. The result might’ve been haunted, dour, but it’s the exact opposite. These verses refuse to be contained. Bandana, like last year’s excellent Fetti, gives Gibbs oddball setups and room to operate. It’s horny, exuberant, paranoid stuff. Beats transform mid-track and Gibbs never loses a step: He channels a gun-waving freakout on “Half Manne Half Cocaine” and sun-kissed contentment on “Cataracts,” then roundhouse-kicks Jesus off a white horse in triple-time on “Flat Tummy Tea.” On the second half of “Fake Names,” his flow coils around a spare flute loop, refusing to relent, dreaming of supermodels and summertime. It’s astonishing, even if it is more or less identical in characteristic to many of his previous efforts over the past decade. Gibbs is a freight train, and you do not argue with his trajectory.

Madlib is no less of a workhorse, although infinitely quieter. In a recent interview with Pitchfork, he confirmed what has been apparent for years: He sleeps only a few hours per night, endlessly producing music in his bomb shelter in a psilocybin stupor, with very little consideration given to its ultimate application or marketing. His vast catalog is meant for him, a library of Babel writ in Brazilian funk loops and Blaxploitation deep cuts. His standout collaborations require talents as large as Doom, Erykah Badu, West—and Gibbs. There’s no such thing as a turning point in this discography—everything coils back in on itself—but Bandana stands out, perhaps owing to its genesis with West. It’s as dusty as you’d expect from Madlib but more widescreen and bombastic, like a grindhouse auteur briefly working with a Hollywood budget. It’s 15 minutes shorter than Piñata but twice as dense, full of deep-in-the-mix flourishes that zip by and lyrical change-ups from Gibbs that unfurl in the span of a single bar. The first record was a grower, gradually establishing itself as one of the great producer-emcee efforts of the young millennium, but Bandana seems designed to dazzle, to assert a joint legacy. It ends with a hard-cut record-scratch, like they could’ve kept going forever. Here’s hoping.

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Clayton Purdom

Clayton Purdom is a writer and editor based in Columbus, Ohio.