The quality of Piñata, the first full-length collaboration of Gary, Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs and legendary producer Madlib didn’t come out of nowhere, as both artists had gained a strong following and good amounts of acclaim (Madlib more so than Gibbs). But if meeting expectations meant a great album, surpassing them meant a new classic. It turned out that Madlib’s crate-digging ways brought out the best in Gibbs’ storytelling abilities, allowing every detail of his hard-knocks Rust Belt surroundings to hold weight, from his favorite chicken joint to the emotional scars of a shattered relationship, and giving room for a large slate of guests, including Danny Brown, Raekwon, Mac Miller, Earl Sweatshirt, and Scarface, to shine.

Though Piñata was released in March of 2014, it likely defined many rap fans’ summer as they drove around to the sounds of Gibbs putting hypocrites in their place on 'Shitsville' or lit up to 'High'. It’s an impossibly generous album too, one that keeps giving you new things to appreciate, be it Gibbs’ delivery of a certain bar or Madlib’s use of a certain sample.

After a lengthy but not interminable wait of five years, we have Bandana. (Legend has it there’s still someone out there waiting for a proper follow-up to Madvillainy.) Bucking the conventions of sequels, musical and otherwise, Gibbs and Madlib scale things back. There are fewer guests, fewer tracks, and a shorter running time. Calling it a Piñata followup is technically true, but there’s a clear difference between this and the last time they came together.

It’s not the quality difference that’s the main factor. If you haven’t already scrolled to the bottom to check the score, know that Bandana is a worthy work from the pair and that any issues (to be discussed shortly) are not being raised in relation to Piñata. There will likely be division over which is better, but doing so is as pointless as comparing The Wolf of Wall Street to The Departed. Just because artists have collaborated before doesn’t mean their works all have the same aims.

Piñata covered a lot of ground emotionally, but the best way to describe it is “fun.” Even when Gibbs was getting grim, the overall effect was still quite playful. Bandana's first single ‘Flat Tummy Tea’ indicated that a similar vibe would be achieved this time out, with Gibbs kicking off with a simile so inspired you can imagine the lightbulb going off in his head (“I beat the pot like Joseph beat Mike and Jermaine/ One came out light, one came out dark, but they smokin' the same”). He then goes into rapidly discussing slavery, addiction, and incarceration while fighting back against haters and anyone who stands in his way (“Took the sword and knocked white Jesus off of that white horse”). Meanwhile, Madlib’s shredding synth-driven beat switches like a cyborg upgrading itself.

But what makes Bandana distinct from Piñata is how much greater Gibbs’ presence is felt compared to Madlib’s. While Piñata felt like a “Freddie Gibbs & Madlib album,” Bandana is far more driven by the MC. Madlib’s beats (originally intended for Kanye West), contain his hallmarks of soul samples and general haziness, with some branching out, like the trap sounds of ‘Half Manne Half Cocaine’, but he mostly acts as a conduit for Gibbs’ mindset, such as the persistent percussion that runs through ‘Situation’. His inclusion of woodwind on the second half of ‘Fake Names’ helps to balance the gritty and the luxurious that Gibbs is selling.

Gibbs certainly has experienced quite a lot, before and following his teaming up with Madlib. Having drug dealing, incarceration, and fatherhood on your CV, along with the experiences of being a black man in America and the ability to rap on beat, doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to turn that into an actually unique perspective. What Gibbs does well is barraging his verses with so many trains of thought that he shows himself as someone who’s grown accustomed to a mind that’s full but not mindful. The title and intro of the furiously performed ‘Cataracts’ suggest a spiritual successor to ‘High’, but between discussing his daughter’s birth, his struggles with lean addiction, and memorializing Tha Jacka, it’s a track where anything is possible, including talking about how his “baby mama switched up her diet, I'ma go vegan with her,” and fitting in the line “Livin' la vida broke-a.”

Much of Bandana feels like a loose concept album, guiding us through Gibbs’ life, in the far past, recent past, and now. Lyrics occasionally place us in years such as 2009 and 2014. The tape hiss and horns of proper opener ‘Freestyle Shit’ and Gibbs’ discussions of his dealer upbringing sell the retro feel, along with references to a pre-Michael B. Jordan Rocky series. Traumatic moments of the past are discussed, from his cousin being killed to witnessing a stabbing at an arcade. As Gibbs ages, he doesn’t necessarily grow up. The Donny Hathaway-sampling ‘Practice,’ tries to cast a dubious parallel between his infidelity towards a partner and his getting out of the drug game. He squanders multiple chances to show true remorse, blaming the other woman (“Fucking up my whole family structure to clear the day for her”), drugs, and his friends for not stopping him from dealing. On standout Piñata cut ‘Deeper’ Gibbs mused “Maybe yous a stank ho, maybe that's a bit mean/ Maybe you grew up and I'm still living like I'm sixteen,” a commendable example of how well he can mix immaturity and self-awareness.

Another grab bag track, the Killer Mike and Pusha T-featuring 'Palmolive', finds that even having those two legends in tow can’t clean away the stench of Gibbs’ making anti-vaxx claims. Pusha still gets in a strong “yugh” and some choice lines; “Way more chemical than political/ PTSD from what I weighed on the digital” is a far more succinct but also more layered version of what Gibbs is trying to achieve in his detailing where he came from. There’s mounds of violent imagery (“Bitch ain't crack the safe, got his moms hit with the pistol whip/ Move like the Yakuza set trip/ We clipping off fingertips”), and the quantity dulls the quality. It might have helped if Gibbs slowed things down a bit. Even on the emotional 'Got Damn', partially a good showcase for his singing chops, his rapid flow overshadows his sharing of feelings.

The highly personal nature of these tracks could be behind the slim guestlist. Aside from ‘Palmolive’ only two other tracks have other artists on the mic. Anderson .Paak sings and raps on ‘Giannis’, connecting with Gibbs on the ugly truths that come with rising to the top (“Some will get free but most will get killed”). On penultimate track ‘Education’ Gibbs, Yasiin Bey, and Black Thought muse on black subjugation. Gibbs is usually in pretty lockstep with his peers, no matter how experienced they are, and while he generally holds up well on this track, points have to be taken off for ”Used to be peace and O's, drop an opp like pop's stinky load.”

For an album with one producer, a not-too-long run-time/tracklist, and few guests, Bandana is quite messy. Along with all that’s running through Gibbs’ head, there are curious endings, like a comedy outro to 'Palmolive' or a few studio asides to perhaps show another part of the Gibbs Complex. There was a lot riding on this album to be a worthy successor to Piñata, and Gibbs and Madlib ended up with something that unfortunately doesn’t come close to those heights, but something that’s still worth thoughtful evaluation and plenty of discussion.