VIP Reviews: ‘Bandana’ by Freddie Gibbs & Mad-Lib

The legend that is Mad-Lib precedes him, he refuses to let his sound be declared outdated despite the popularity of emo-rap, pop-rap and trap rap sounds. This collaboration has occurred before with significant success, and on this project, Madlib’s keen eye for obscure sounds combined with Freddie Gibbs’ bravery to self-reflect and cover a wide range of issues and topics is what makes Bandana what it is.

Bandana is a reflection on the troubling life of a gangbanger, however, it doesn’t simply devolve into a brag rap album, it is so much more insightful, and presents so much more emotion and variety thanks to Lib’s production and Freddie’s honesty.

Freestyle S**t, is a great song to introduce us to the concept and sounds of the album, the absence of overpowering 808 basslines and drum patterns present in current pop-rap trends is refreshing. The trumpet melody sets a broody tone that allows Freddy’s initial reflection on his past, “before the music thing wasn’t moving man”, to be soulful yet gritty at the same time.

Despite that, it is not completely absent of all traits of brag rap, it is simply presented originally, and this is displayed best in Massage Seats, with a vocal loop that is reminiscent of 80’s rap trends. Freddie Gibbs is still able to be a gangster rapper on sounds that are usually outside of his preference, however, songs such as Soul Right show how he can be so much more.

Soul Right is a reflection on his karma, wondering how after everything Freddie has seen or been through, could he ever “get his soul right”. The hook actualizes this idea perfectly, and certain lines show his lyrical ability alongside his attempt to redefine himself. E.G “I can’t hold grudges my hands are too busy catching blessings”.

Mad-Lib utilizes beat switches across this record, however, it can be found to be anti-climactic in Fake Names. The snare in the drum pattern gives it a strong sense of rhythm that allows Gibbs so much room to show off his lyrical prowess. Lib has created a chamber for us to be engulfed in, with the vibrato violins being almost hypnotizing, making the listener hyper-focused on Freddie’s tight-knit flows. Sadly, all this just comes to a sudden halt at the beat change, and the atmosphere that Mad-Lib builds with this track is destroyed.

The good moments of Flat Tummy Tea are overshadowed by the lack of clarity in the vocals where Freddie switches to his fast flow. Situations, however, shows Freddie upping the tempo in his rap flows without that problem at all, despite it not being as fast, it still shows he can pull off. There are simply other rappers which replicate a chopping flow with better clarity, however, the attempt by Freddie is creditworthy.

The practice is the song that allows Freddie to emote the most on this record. This is essentially a gangster rap ballad, and Mad-Lib sets this tone extremely well with the blues vocals, and yet again the lack of a big bassline to govern the track. Freddie considers his attitudes to the women in his life with sincerity and respect, which is almost unheard of in current pop-rap trends.

Features are lightly peppered across this record but come in the form of some big names such as Pusha T and Anderson Paak. Yet, they feel like they only supplement the album, with Lib and Gibbs’ work together really takes centre stage. One track, Education featuring Yasiin Bey and Black Thought does bring a little more to the party and is more than just a song about hood rule of law. Freddie Gibbs has addressed black activism across his discography, but alongside Black Thought they can hit us with hard criticism of so-called democratic society, from the black population that Freddie would surround himself with.

Bandana will be a success for those obsessed with new rap trends to listen to because none of them exists here. Mad-Lib shows why his unique sound is just as relevant as it ever was, and Freddie Gibbs shows how gangster rap can adapt to various sounds to be insightful on a variety of topics.

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