By: Tommy Rodriguez

Bandana: More than just “Piñata 2”

Making a good sequel is hard. Take a look at any number of Hollywood successes, and you’ll find that their follow ups tend to offer only diminishing returns: The Phantom Menace, Jaws 3D…returning to the same batch of ideas a second time around can usually be underwhelming, if not flat out bad.

The same can apply to music in sequels to classic albums; most tend to be underwhelming or completely betray the original’s musical approach.

Imagine the pressure that Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs and master producer Madlib had when making Bandana, the sequel to one of the 2010’s most lauded rap albums, Piñata.

On Piñata (the first collaborative album between Gibbs and Madlib) , Gibbs and Madlib struck pure hip hop gold with wonderful production, amazing flows and topics, and a sense of unmatched confidence. Bandana, the Piñata sequel announced years ago, had a gargantuan cross to bear upon its shoulders. How do you match the grandiose expectations of a fan base looking for a treasure trove of great samples, rhymes, and drug references?

You make a follow up that both lives up to its lineage and expands on the Coke Rap Musical Universe.

The best Hollywood sequels seem to all have the same winning formula: continue what made the first movie good, further explore the setting of the series, and take a few worthwhile risks. Bandana does all of these amazingly as a sequel, while maintaining its own identity as an excellent rap record.

From the Producer of “Madvillainy”, Come the Highly Awaited Beats You’ve Been Waiting For…

The production on Bandana is spotless, loaded with quirky vocal samples, crackling static, soulful melodies, and a smidgeon of darkness to reflect Gibbs’ criminal lyrics. However, Bandana differs from its prequel in being a bit more minimalist, Madlib flexing his producing power more than ever.

“Crime Pays” served as a great teaser trailer for the album, with Gibbs flexing his unique personality alongside some zebras on a beautiful mountain setting

The songs on Bandana occasionally lack hooks from Gibbs, opting for a more straightforward approach and letting Madlib’s production run solo, as with the female singing on the luxurious and well-rapped “Crime Pays” or shadowy reggae shouts and drums of “Massage Seats”. The production takes a life of its own, starting and stopping on a dime and twisting and turning with perfectly constructed beat constructions, making each repeated listen akin to rewatching your favorite movies, catching new details every time.

Many tracks here take incredible risks on their momentum, completely changing an already stellar beat for a more aggressive or soft tone on the same track. “Flat Tummy Tea” already features a fiery Gibbs performance over guitars, complete with a bit of rare social commentary from Gary’s own gangster, but as soon as the beat switches, the track expands into a glossy, swaggering anthem to knock down “white Jesus off his white horse”. “Half Manne Half Cocaine” features an incredibly rare trap beat from Madlib, allowing Freddie to commit to his quiet lyrical takedown…

And it all explodes to a fiery explosion of white powder.

Gibbs, well into his career, sounds young and hungry as ever as he manages to mix Sesame Street references, powder-snorting sound effects, and a chaotic flow into a brilliant moment on an already excellent record. It’s raw, unfiltered underground hip hop that strikes gold. And a lead man this good needs the help of an expert director; Madlib is the Scorsese to Gibbs’ drug dealing escapades on wax.

A Cast of Colorful, Cutthroat Characters

The minimalist approach to making Bandana distinct and worthy as a sequel to Piñata is found more than in just the occasional lack of hooks or looped samples, as the supporting cast for Bandana is quite small, with Gibbs returning as our blow slinging protagonist.

Every feature introduced on this sequel, however, is perfectly cast. Anderson Paak makes a worthwhile appearance on the looped pianos of “Giannis”. The sexy vocal loops and luxurious backdrop of the stellar “Palmolive Oil” set the stage perfectly for an Avengers-esque crossover of drug rap, as Gibbs and Pusha T lay down intoxicatingly cocky verses loaded with quotables, while Killer Mike’s husky voice imposes an equally sage and scary mood on the hook. “Education” sounds like a rap-cypher recorded on a dusty microphone in France, but Yasiin Bey, Black Thought, and Gibbs’ verses on black empowerment and hustling are too good to pass up.

The sequel usually needs the main character to return, and Gibbs continues his role as a lyrical monster with a magnetic persona. He handles these often-difficult instrumentals with a technical finesse that’s jaw-dropping at times. “Freestyle S**t” sets the record straight for the Gary native as he rides jazzy horns as easily as a luxury car. He handles the beat switch of “Fake Names” with some incredible staccato flows as he matches some wonderful flute melodies, and “Situations” is easily one of his best songwriting efforts to date. The hook of the track is infectious, glued to the beat and immediately memorable.

Gibbs’ ability to rhyme is excellent, and so is his ability to dig into his past just as Madlib dogs into his vinyl collection. The celebratory imagery of “Cataracts” is as vivid as a Da Vinci painting, while “Practice” reflects on his romantic and familial failures over a somber vocal loop that shows Gibbs’ character is fully three dimensional. His consistency in rhyming well, rhyming cleverly, and rhyming with purpose is awe inspiring, each track having another lyrical gem that sticks out as much as the hilarious skits laced into the record.

The Final Verdict

The cover of Bandana is very interesting to me. A zebra and fuzzy monster, representing Gibbs and Madlib respectively, overlook Hollywood as a nightmarish hellscape. To me, this almost encapsulates the method to Bandana’s madness. It’s a sequel alright, but its power is undeniable, and the lead actor and director are positive it’ll be a hit among the many sequels and albums that crash and burn in rap Hollywood. It’s ballsy…

And yet the quality of Bandana backs it up. It’s one of the year’s best releases, and a must listen for any hip hop fan.

Final Score: GODDAMN!/10

Tracks to Save: “Freestyle S**t”, “Half Manne, Half Cocaine”, “Crime Pays”, “Palmolive Oil”, “Flat Tummy Tea”, “Situations”, “Practice”, “Cataracts”, “Education”

Tracks to Skip: N/A