Bandana, out June 28, stands in stark contrast to today’s SoundCloud rap scene. The duo pushes songs over three minutes, with Madlib switching beats mid-track. With his unfiltered, in-your-face attitude, Gibbs mirrors the grime and grit of 1990s rap. “We up there with [’90s hip-hop duo] Pete Rock & CL Smooth,” he says. “We the best doing it [today]. You got Run the Jewels, and I love what they do, but what me and Madlib do? It stands alone.”
After he was dropped, Gibbs independently released a flurry of mixtapes including 2009’s acclaimed The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs and 2010’s Str8 Killa EP. In 2011, the gruff-voiced MC signed to Jeezy’s Corporate Thugz Entertainment label and dropped two projects before exiting in 2013, citing creative differences, to begin his independent label ESGN (Evil Seeds Grow Naturally), on which he finally put out his first full-length of the same name -- it reached No. 24 on Billboard’s Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
The 45-year-old Madlib (real name: Otis Jackson Jr.) was born into a musically inclined family in Oxnard, Calif.: His parents were musicians; his uncle is jazz trumpeter Jon Faddis; and his younger brother, Michael Woodrow Jackson, is rapper-producer Oh No, who has landed production credits for Action Bronson, Mos Def and Talib Kweli. Madlib himself boasts an impressive résumé of collaborators, including Kanye West, Erykah Badu and Anderson .Paak. But the notoriously private producer is most enthralled with Gibbs and his razor-sharp street edge and charisma. Says Madlib: “He’s gangsta.”
He and Gibbs first teamed up for their series of joint EPs in 2011, with Thuggin’, which they recorded under the name MadGibbs and released on the producer’s own independent label, Madlib Invazion (the producer himself is signed to Los Angeles indie Stones Throw Records). MadGibbs dropped two more EPs (Shame in 2012, Deeper in 2013) before hunkering down on a proper full-length. The soul-stirring Piñata, which featured boom-bap masters like Raekwon, Mac Miller, Danny Brown and Earl Sweatshirt, debuted at No. 39 on the Billboard 200 and peaked at No. 7 on the Top Rap Albums chart.
Gibbs and Madlib vowed to release an edgier follow-up. But before they even had a chance to enter the studio, Gibbs was arrested in June 2016 prior to a concert in Toulouse, France, for an alleged rape nearly one year prior. He spent two weeks in jail, posted bail and was then extradited to Austria for his trial. In August, he was charged with sexual assault. In September, after spending over a month in jail, he was acquitted of all charges. Speaking to XXL in 2017, Gibbs said that while he was cleared of the charges, he was well aware of the fact that people in the industry were scared to go near him. “Young rappers with shit like that on their name don’t give a fuck, the hip-hop world don’t give a fuck,” he said. “But not me. I had to patch things up.”
Gibbs wrote 80% of Bandana while in jail, using the beats that Madlib had given him before he was arrested. “I had no music player or anything like that in my cell, so all I had was memory. I’d think about the subject matter, and all night I just played the beats in my brain.” Says Madlib: “We didn’t know what the outcome was going to be. I didn’t even know if there was going to be a second album.” All the while, Keep Cool co-founder Tunji Balogun was connecting Gibbs and his manager, Lambo, with lawyers to help navigate the process. Once the charges were dropped, Gibbs and Madlib had one goal in mind: finish the album as soon as possible.