Freddie Gibbs and Madlib have been hip hop’s most iconic contemporary duo since Piñata released almost five years ago (and has aged like a fine wine since then). In 2016, Madlib announced a follow-up, Bandana, with little information other than that it would feature rejected beats from Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. The only thing fans have had to go on since then has been cryptic Instagram pictures of Gibbs and Madlib in the studio. Finally, the album rollout has begun: Bandana’s debut single “Flat Tummy Tea” dropped in February. On Mar. 5th, the duo dropped the titular single “Bandana” featuring Jamaican dancehall artist Assassin.
The continuity in sound between Piñata and its upcoming successor is clear right from the beginning of “Bandana,” with trademark-Madlib drums that echo Piñata’s opening track, “Supplier.” An eerie vocal sample and ghostly sound effects are layered over a spacey pad, making for a beat that conjures images of an alien invasion. Gibbs delivers his verse with fiery realism, painting a grim picture of his gang-affiliated days slinging crack in Gary, Indiana. Gibbs’s lyrics are dense, filled with metaphors and slang that mirror the complexity of Madlib’s production.
Assassin, best known (outside of Jamaica) for his features on Kanye West’s “I’m In It” and Kendrick Lamar’s “The Blacker the Berry,” is a phenomenal guest: His ad-libs and reverbing backup vocals bring a menacing mood to the track, and his Jamaican-slang-filled verse carries over the energy from Gibbs’s.
“Bandana,” simply put, goes hard. The moody instrumental and direct lyrics (“I ain’t bullshittin’,” as Gibbs says) are uncharacteristic of a single: They make for what sounds like a deep-album cut, something that will sound even better in the context of the whole record. If “Bandana” is any indicator, the eponymous album will be well worth the long wait.