Madlib is one of the most prolific producers in the genre, having made joint projects with esteemed rap legends like J Dilla and MF DOOM. Along with instrumental projects and copious collaborations with a diverse selection of artists, Madlib has also released three albums under his alter-ego, “Quasimoto,” which he contributes the vocals to through a high-pitched, cartoon-like filter. His work stretches back to the early ’90s, but he has been making full-length projects throughout the 2000s, such as when he released 13 LPs in two years for his “Madlib Medicine Show” effort.
The creative mastermind met the Indiana-based rapper Freddie Gibbs in 2009 through Gibbs’ manager, who had known Madlib from their shared time working at Stone Throw Records. Gibbs had barely started his career at that point, but Madlib must have seen something special in him; they made three extended plays starting in 2011, leading up to the release of their full-length joint LP “Pinata” in 2014.
The end product was awesome and five years later, the duo are teasing their return with two promotional singles for its sequel, “Bandana,” rumored to be released in April.
Most rap fans would salivate at the masterfully mixed and intertwined collection of vintage-sounding instrumentals included on “Pinata.” Gibbs’ wordplay and hard-knuckled flows thunder over Madlib’s use of vocal and instrumental samples that enrich the backgrounds of songs throughout the track list. The producer’s experimental style has led to a number of mind-bending concoctions that express a mix of classic jazz and blues along with futuristic neo-funk.
“Thuggin‘,” “Shame” and “Deeper,” the three EPs leading up to “Pinata,” included remixes, clean versions, an extra track on each, instrumental versions and some “bonus beats.” The three self-titled tracks off the EPs were kept on the 2014 album, as well as “Harold’s” from the latest EP, “Deeper.”
Each of the four tracks grabbed hip-hop fanatics’ ears, like on “Thuggin‘” where Madlib tactfully composed a menacing beat that evolves fluidly throughout Gibbs’ sharp bars. “Thuggin‘” exemplifies how Madlib’s instrumentals are almost like rivers of sound, as he orchestrates the wide array of noises in his beats into melodic but rushing rhythms.
Gibbs and Madlib present several hard-hitting verses over ice-veined beats on “Bomb,” “Shitsville” and the second half of “Real,” Gibbs’ diss track pointed at former business partner, Young Jeezy. On these tracks, Gibbs’ cold recollections of crime and hostility thrive over captivating basslines accented with rhythmic patterns of twinkles and beeps.
The hard belly of “Pinata” is supported by a playful but still sophisticated ambiance that makes up the backbone of the album in jams such as the stoner anthem “High” and tracks “Lakers” and “Knicks.” Applying pressure with epic cuts and encouraging relief with playful rhymes on brighter tracks creates a unique and multifaceted atmosphere for “Pinata.” Appearances from hip-hop veterans Raekwon and Scarface, as well as newer names like Earl Sweatshirt, Ab-Soul, Danny Brown, Mac Miller and Meechy Darko from the Flatbush Zombies, combined with several incredible beat switch-ups throughout its track list, make “Pinata” an expedition of surprises.
“Flat Tummy Tea”
“Flat Tummy Tea” was the first song released by Gibbs and Madlib since 2014, so fans knew “Bandana” was just over the horizon. Dropped on Feb. 20, the track begins with abrupt electric-guitar riffs looped through a maze of animate noises as Gibbs kicks in the door with disapproving lines:
“N—s won’t let you live in peace but love to see you rest in peace / Broke and poppin‘ and drinkin‘ on the rest, they got the best of me / I’m choppin‘ it up on the table, ’cause there wasn’t no label gon‘ invest in me/ These n—s’ll ride your wave and wouldn’t go sit that time in the fed with me.”
Gibbs delivers his verse and chorus on the first half with fire coursing in his voice. His wordplay rides the abstract instrumental mesmerizingly, and his lyrics shovel through heavy themes. The hectic first half leads to an elusive instrumental turn, crafted with decelerating noises and a synth-and-trumpet sample that protrudes through its deflated sound like a light in a tunnel. The second half is alluring, with its unorthodox beat that enhances Gibbs’ bars tremendously despite its peculiarity.
The emcee also provides focused introspection into the striking themes of the prior half, rapping, “Addicted to medication, just poured another line up / Overdosed with a Styrofoam cup, how they gon‘ find us? / Slave movies every year, yeah, the master gon‘ remind us.”
The first two bars are certainly a reflection of the burgeoning popularity of substance abuse — specifically promethazine and codeine — that is taking over the genre. However, the third is an example of how Gibbs can impact a listener with controversial claims that spike his verses with conspiracy-theorist flavor. The track’s double-edged energy and the thought-provoking themes of “Flat Tummy Tea” make it a memorable track, and I’m excited to see where it fits in with the whole of “Bandana.”
“Bandana (feat. Assassin)”
In the second and self-titled promotional single for “Bandana,” Madlib composes a dense instrumental layered with phantom-like vocal samples, ghostly synths and echoed knocks centered around a funky bass. Gibbs’ rhymes are just as primed as in “Flat Tummy Tea,” and he takes the jungle-like setting to its fullest with two confident verses.
The ghoulish undertone of the beat appeals to the murderous theme of Gibbs’ chorus on the track, as he raps, “Once I used it, it was dirty like the blood stain / On my bandana (Bandana).”
The Jamaican artist Assassin’s supporting ad-libs and concluding verse bring great energy to “Bandana” as well. Like in “Pinata,” Gibbs looks to paint the astounding canvases laid out by Madlib with witty comparisons, vivid imagery and inventive wordplay such as the line, “I give a hater a handicap with this hand cannon.”
Gibbs’ gangster-rap ferocity is potent, and his singles are rugged. He is looking as motivated and unapologetic as ever and Madlib is sure to contribute a collection of methodical and unique beats to one of the fiercest voices in modern rap for “Bandana.”