It’s finally here. At last the release of the much-anticipated follow-up to 2014’s “Pinata” has come after five long years. This hip hop opus created by rapper Freddie Gibbs and producer Madlib is probably my most listened to album of all time with tracks like “Thuggin’,” “Deeper,” and “Shame” being the most timeless tracks in an already timeless tracklist. It’s not a breakthrough album in the sense that it sparked a whole new subgenre of hip hop or was some kind of conceptual masterpiece, it’s a breakthrough because it celebrates hip hop like no other album has before. Gibbs’ technical, precise flows and Madlibs fuzzy, intricately-built instrumentals are the peak of what any other underground hip hop album has accomplished. It’s an album with a cult following that praises it for being one of the best hip hop albums without ever trying to be. It’s a high bar to reach but Gibbs’ and Madlib manage to rekindle some of the original flames on “Bandana”.
The album starts off in a manner that seems to welcome MadGibbs back over some fuzzy, grandiose horns on the opening track “Freestyle Sh*t”. Gibbs’ does as the title implies and spits some really solid freestyle bars reminiscing about his come up in the streets of Gary, Indiana and overall it is a really good opening track. However, the low point of the album quickly follows on the first half of the next track “Half Manne Half Cocaine.” Madlib does the unexpected and produces a trap beat that sounds like a Kenny Beats rough draft. It was pretty surprising to hear at first and only got more shocking as I confirmed that the producer was indeed Madlib. The second half of the instrumental is quite a bit better and manages to redeem the track in my eyes even though the first half is a bummer to listen to.
Most of the stand out tracks on this album had already been released as singles like “Giannis” and “Flat Tummy Tea.” The distorted, jerky guitars on the first half of “Flat Tummy Tea” as well as Gibbs’ breakneck delivery make the track a standout. “Education” is another great track that manages to attain this greatness on the backs of its features. Yasiin Bey and Black Thought bring some stand out verses with their trademark consciousness. The beat Madlib cooks up is perfect for these two and Gibbs closes out the track with a killer verse of his own. While it doesn’t quite match the vibe of the rest of the album, it is still a great track with a great energy. Unfortunately, not many other songs reach that same level of energy.
For the most part, Gibbs raps over some more laid back, soulful instrumentals that do the job they’re supposed to do but don’t do anything more. Gibbs tries to bring some more of his personal life and beliefs on to a few of the tracks like “Practice” and “Soul Right” but a well-meaning message in one verse gets swallowed up in coke bars and street raps on the next few. A verse dedicated to apologizing for infidelity loses some poignancy when directly followed by a verse about flipping packs.
Overall, I was just a little underwhelmed by this album. There weren’t that many low points in the tracklist, just not as many high points as I was expecting. After waiting years for an album, you get your hopes up and hope that it’ll be easy for artists to recreate what they did on the original record but in a more refreshing way. I think I underestimated how difficult it would be to follow up “Pinata” with an album equally as game-changing. This is still a very solid hip hop album with some great moments and classic Madlib production. Gibbs’ somewhat introspective raps are a good change of pace after his last album, “Freddie,” came with banger after banger and Madlib still comes with a few classic instrumentals to show you he’s one of the best there is.