Review Summary: wash me clean
What makes a Madlib project extraordinary？ His beats, uniformly terrific, walk the fine line between nostalgia and pastiche. Dusty samples gain new life as he chops them up over un-quantised drums, breathing new life into some forgotten relic of the past one crate-digging excavation at a time. There's a reliable level of quality you expect going in with Madlib, but he needs the chemistry to take him to the next level. The producer's partners-in-crime don't need to be underground legends like MF DOOM was when Madvillain formed, they just need to lock in with the beats further than the surface level of how hard you can spit over them (see: "No More Parties in LA"). It takes a great rapper to twist Madlib's inherent nostalgic glow into something subtle, more complex: something you hadn't suspected they could be.
This admittedly elusive and arbitrary quality is what nestled Bandana
into my subconscious in a way Piñata
never did. Freddie is truly living
inside Madlib's beats rather than just rapping on top of them. The acclaimed 2014 collaboration brought the bangers to a head-spinning degree, but there was rarely time for the music to breathe even as the album spun out past an hour, bogging itself down with average-to-bad features from the likes of Ab-Soul (annoying), Casey Veggies (bewilderingly off-beat) and the late Mac Miller (pre-reinvention as a great artist in his own right). Bandana
is simultaneously tighter and freer. What guests there are quickly adhere to the existing template set by Gibbs rather than dominating the track when he leaves, whether that's Pusha T loosening his tightly-wound energy a bit on "Palmolive" or Anderson .Paak's scratchy, inherently throwback-sounding voice tailormade to spit on easy standout "Giannis". More importantly, Gibbs convinces you that no one else could ever have spat on these beats once he gets going. "Half Manne Half Cocaine" and "Flat Tummy Tea" hew close to straight bangers without losing that Madlibvibe, while "Palmolive" and "Crime Pays" chop up soul ballads for a classic Wu-Tang sound.
There's a legitimate danger of mythologising fan-favourite duos like Freddie Gibbs and Madlib beyond what the music demands. Look at Madvillainy
's borderline-mythical journey to release: how these artists that likely never would have interacted met, the fourteen month-early leak, DOOM's reluctance to return to the project after their debut became a classic, and so on. Look at how this story lives on divorced from the music itself. Bandana
's tale is ordinary in comparison, and all the better for it - Otis had the beats, Kane had the raps, they did the arithmetic.
is terrific because it makes you yearn for that imagined history, the struggle from page to audio that surely happened to produce such a god-given chemistry. Freddie's deep, choppy flows might initially seem somewhat at odds with Madlib's production but that's why it works, because playing too much to the soul-soaked nostalgia robs the proceedings of their bite. Freddie might lag behind the beats on occasion but he's getting ready to switch up and devour them right after; he might play soft in harmony with their soulful qualities, but he'll rub up against the grain soon enough. It's the ultimate union of unstoppable force and immovable object. Together they rob the music of all myth, all context, until the audio stands alone, thrilling and soothing and biting and ridiculous in equal measure. I can't conceive of a rapper-producer duo who could curb each other's most extravagant impulses more than this one; accordingly, Bandana
is not a second too long, not a sample too nostalgic and not a bar too rap-heavy.