More than likely, I will be in the minority here for my opinion. When I heard Bandana was dropping, life was amazing. Although I slightly slept on this duo’s previous album at first it is now one of my favorite hip-hop albums. The blend of Madlib’s vintage smooth sample-based production and Freddie’s gritty street talk reminds me of a crisp summer ale alongside a juicy cheeseburger. Their Piñata album achieved brilliance via diverse, soulful instrumentals. Freddie’s lyrics were a culmination of over ten years of asphalt tales and industry finesse. He shed light on beefs, past relationships, and life growing up in Gary, Indiana. Compared to this current record, Gibbs had a broader array of topics. While Piñata is not a flawless product, it did carve a cult-worthy spot among this decade’s best rap projects. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for Bandana despite Freddie’s superb performance.
I hate to say it, but Madlib let me down here. He absolutely remains a legend. Yet I hold him to a higher standard than your average hip-hop producer. He claimed he made every one of these beats on his iPad. And it shows. None of these tracks feature weak or skip-worthy production. However, they managed to underwhelm me more often than not. The overall sound here is passive. A bulk of the lead melodies flicker in and out without demanding attention. This baffled me. During my first playthrough, I waited for a run of quotable hooks and sing-along samples. Even though there is not one inherently trash song here, there isn’t much in terms of hits either. And I don’t mean hits as in pop crossover type shit. I’m talking signature tracks that instantly appear on your tongue as soon as you hear the word bandanna in conversation.
Perhaps I am delusional. Perhaps this is one of the decade’s best rap albums. I am simply not hearing it nonetheless. That is not to say this album is not worth your time. Because, in general, it is. Especially considering how relatively unimpressive 2019 has been for mainstream hip-hop. Yes, I know Freddie Gibbs is not mainstream whatsoever. But him and Madlib together are heavy in the limelight due to the success of this album’s predecessor. To me, it feels as though this album is acquiring praise mostly for its cohesion. In spite of Bandana’s fluidity, its flavor dissipates as a whole rather quickly, like chugging a specialty soda without savoring a single drop. Well, lemme rephrase that. “Education,” featuring Yasiin Bey and Black Thought is a powerful, dusty head-bobber that embodies Madlib’s iconic style. “Crime Pays” and “Palmolive” deserve repeat listens also. So, there are some heaters here.
Yet, in my opinion, none of these above-average cuts make the kind of impact that is to be expected from two masters of their respective crafts. Timing makes a huge difference when it comes to releasing art. Five years ago, Freddie had a lot more on his chest. His Piñata bars felt more personal, more specific, which gave his substance longevity. Here he stays in his cocaine warrior wheelhouse. I’m cool with that, honestly. Nevertheless, without a next-level beat palette, Freddie’s bars go somewhat to waste. Madlib throws unnecessary beat switches into tracks like “Fake Names,” “Flat Tummy Tea, ” and “Cataracts.” Again, this doesn’t necessarily ruin the comprehensive vibe, but this album is fluid almost to a fault. Many tracks meld together, impeding Bandana from blossoming into something unique. Though if all you’re looking for are some dope rhymes and smooth soundscapes, then look no further.