Madlib and Freddie Gibbs (photo: Joshua Huver)
On Sunday, September 8, world-class beat-maker and hip-hop producer Madlib and rapper Freddie Gibbs hosted a sold out and sweaty night of bumping beats at 1015 Folsom in San Francisco. This marks the first return to the Bay Area in over a year for Madlib.
The duo have been on the road performing in random corners around the country more than they have been touring proper, nonetheless supporting their second full length LP Bandana. The second in a planned trilogy, Bandana follows 2014’s Piñata with the planned conclusion Montana merely a distant calendar point in the future.
Madlib, aka Otis Jackson Jr. from Oxnard, CA, and Gibbs, from Gary, IN, are a prolific, if unlikely, contemporary duo. Madlib is a master of the subtle, the raw hiss and a keen ear that is steeped heavily in jazz and an unquenchable thirst for the world’s best beats. Gibbs is a straight-faced Midwestern rapper with bite, heart, and a quick, polished delivery.
Pitchfork called it “as mouth-watering a combo as licorice and pickle juice.”
But as strange as some may want it to be, the fact remains that Madlib x Gibbs share a special bond that stretches wider and deeper back in time than any of Madlib’s other collaborations. They first hooked up in mid 2011. That November, after six months of working in secret, Madlib introduced Gibbs during a show in San Francisco.
The appearance marked the official debut of what they called MadGibbs. A limited run of 500 vinyl were pressed and thus marked the release of Thuggin’ — the first of three collaborative EPs together. In 2014, they dropped the MadGibbs moniker and released their first full-length LP, Piñata, as Freddie Gibbs & Madlib.
In a press release, Freddie Gibbs described Piñata as “a gangster Blaxploitation film on wax.” There was a dated grit and fuck-the-system attitude present throughout a mimed nostalgia, hinging itself on freedom from oppression. Madlib experimented with loads of these sounds, these images, motifs and themes throughout the Madlib Medicine Show, specifically installments 1,3, 5, and 10.
Between the two of them, Madlib and Gibbs are actively defining and reexamining culture from the inside out and pushing forward whatever they dig up. Once in a while, their digging requires them to pull back on the focus for a larger picture, and that’s what they do with Bandana. According to the same Pitchfork analysis from above, Gibbs has been talking Black power in various forms since his early mixtapes. The difference on Bandana is that he’s less certain about what it looks like, who embodies it, how to secure it. As he takes a fuller view of his life and the fates of his idols, he grows more cautious. “I can’t move the same / I gotta readjust how I maneuver,” he insists on “Gat Damn.”
That Sunday, Madlib took over the mix just before 10pm for a brief DJ set preceding Gibbs’ entry. He opened with the old school joint “Accordion” from Madvillainy, 2001’s breakthrough record with MF Doom. Madlib sampled over “The Waters” Anderson .Paak and some unreleased joints off his iPad.
About 20 minutes into the set, Madlib turned up and started bumping “Obrigado” and Gibbs hit the stage. As the night went on, Gibbs kept refilling his champagne glass, trying to drown the heat of the room.
Between beats, Gibbs favorite call and response to check in on the crowd was to repeat “Fuck the Police.” Madlib, often the silent Teller to whichever MC is playing the leading Penn, was by no means a quiet participant. Eager to play his beats, he would often scratch around the ins and outs or cue up emotive and directional sound bites that truly conducted the flow and vibe of the room’s energy, even around Gibbs’ microphone.