Things have changed for Freddie Gibbs in the past five years since releasing Pinata. Although he already held the title of your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper, Gibbs and Madlib’s unusual pairing turned out to be a beautiful masterpiece. Jazzy, lo-fi production based on obscure samples served as the canvas for Freddie Gibbs self-described “gangster Blaxploitation film on wax.” An admitted challenge for the Gary, Indiana rapper, he and Madlib created a cult classic that had fans patiently waiting for its follow-up. Gibbs and Madlib have gone onto do their own things while maintaining that Bandana was on the way. Gangsta G.I. released four strong projects that continued to prove why he’s one of the best rappers in the game, but the bar that he set with Madlib on Pinata was a hard one to live up to. On Bandana, MadGibbs return in full-form, focused and even stronger than on their predecessor.

Bandana is ultimately an album rooted in Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s growth as artists and as collaborators. Whereas Pinata found Freddie Gibbs challenging himself over Madlib’s off-kilter production style, their follow-up finds them pushing each other in equal parts. Madlib gets deeper into the cocaine-fuelled world of Freddie Gibbs. “Half Manne Half Cocaine” serves as the third track on the project but its transition from “Freestyle Shit” turned heads immediately. Would anyone ever expect Madlib to dive into the world of trap? Not exactly. But Madlib tailored these beats for Freddie Gibbs specifically, unlike Pinata

After the trap-centric first half of “Half Manne” that has Gibbs on a braggadocious tip, reflecting on his successes from the trenches to big business, he snaps into Gangsta Gibbs mode. “Yeah, half manne, half cocaine/ I just mixed the Tylenol with heroin/ Junkies shoot some detergent in their fuckin’ veins,” he coldly declares over devilish East Coast production. The beat switches are common throughout the project, which allows Gibbs to give an elevated perspective of his world. “Fake Names” opens up with Gibbs showcasing his pristine storytelling abilities while vividly detailing the mental and emotional scars stemming from the commonality of murder and death in the streets. By the time the beat switches to a smoother, upbeat instrumental, Gibbs breezily transitions into boastful bars about pimping and the dope game. 

Much of this album was written while Gibbs as locked up in Austria on sexual assault charges which he was later acquitted of — an experience that nearly took him out of the rap game. Although the album doesn’t necessarily dive deeply into the case itself, Bandana finds Gibbs more vulnerable and open than on any of his other projects. Everything we’ve heard from Gibbs in the past found him rapping from a present, active voice. However, Bandana finds Gibbs reflecting on the past. His life isn’t in the same place where he was on Pinata, where drug consumption and distribution played a large role. The political and social commentary — from Trump’s America to his controversial take on vaccinations — flow effortlessly as Freddie Gibbs raps and reflects on his story from an elevated angle. It’s not that he hasn’t addressed important issues that affect Black and Brown people in America before, but Bandana takes these topics and ties it back to Freddie Gibbs’ own experiences. 

Take “Palmolive” for example, the long-awaited collaboration between Freddie Gibbs and Pusha — two rappers particularly known for their illustrative depiction of cocaine. With equal amount of years in the rap and the dope game, they tie together life as a Black Americans struggling to make it in the system. Pusha T contrasts the effects the Reagan era had in the 80s to being invited to the White House alongside other members of the rap community to meet Obama in 2016. Meanwhile, Gibbs points out the correlation between the Reagan era and Trump’s presidency. These thoughts extend onto “Education” with Black Thought and Yasiin Bey. A history lesson on wax, the three rappers tie together the Black struggle from colonialism and its evolution into modern day systemic racism and institutionalism. 

Five years is a long wait for an album and not many can live up to that expectation. As the relationship between Madlib and Freddie Gibbs developed, they were able to capture their raw chemistry over the course of fifteen tracks. Madlib continued to push himself which always results in excellence, while Freddie Gibbs offered his most personal and refined work to date, providing flawless politically-charged coke raps from a bird’s eye view.