The Grapes of Rap: Drinking wine and talking Bandana with Madlib and Freddie Gibbs
It’s 80 degrees in Glendale, Calif., and Madlib, hip-hop’s most mysterious producer-rapper-instrumentalist, is, somewhat incongruously, wearing a thick leather jacket. “I’m on ’shrooms,” he says, not exactly explaining the heavy coat on a hot afternoon. “I’ve been up for three days.” The prolific multi-hyphenate born Otis Jackson Jr. has a habit of all-night studio sessions (and a love of psychedelics; the tale of his Quasimoto alter ego, which he created under the influence of psilocybin, is the stuff of legend). But today he’s taking a break from beat-making to raise a glass with friend and occasional collaborator Freddie Gibbs at a basement wine storage facility, where collectors keep prized bottles. Together, the pair are known as MadGibbs, the group behind 2014’s blaxploitation-indebted epic Piñata, along with its fierce soon-to-be-released sequel Bandana (out June 28).
“It’s probably my best album…. This one is more loose and free,” says Gibbs, before savoring a sip of a 2016 Domaine Roulot Meursault Perrières. In person, the Gary, Indiana-bred MC is a gregarious presence—quotable and quick-witted, equally ready to drop a one-liner (“I smoke ten blunts and juggle both of my kids”) or sing Jaheim’s “Could It Be.”
Madlib first connected with Gibbs through the rapper’s manager a decade ago. Despite the mismatched pairing on paper — Gibbs’ quick-fire flow to the limber, sample-heavy beats of Madlib — the two began to collaborate. “It’s a natural thing,” says the producer, about working together. “We trust each other.” Trust doesn’t always equal candidness, though. Adds, Gibbs, “He’s the most mysterious man in music — not easy to read.” The rapper also still finds it tough to maneuver one of Madlib’s beats, which can pull from multiple genres and sources, and often switches the rhythm up midway through. But that approach is also why he loves their partnership. “That’s the beauty of it,” says Gibbs, as he accepts another glass of the Domaine Roulot. “Because he gives me a challenge, you know what I mean? So, I can really get in there, f— some s— up and do something different from anybody else.”
Their in-studio relationship has also extended outside of music. That’s how Gibbs ended up a wine drinker, after Madlib turned him on to the glory of the grape. “I’m like, ‘What the f— is this s—?’” reflects the rapper on his initial reaction to wine. “[Madlib] kinda made me grow up a little bit.” The producer himself has been an oenophile for years. “I used to drink Hennessy, whiskey,” he says. Then his business partner, Now-Again Records founder Eothen Alapatt a.k.a. Egon, hipped him to vino—bubbly specifically. “I like champagne. It’s easier to drink.”
Speaking of, the artists are now on to a glass of Demière-Ansiot as talk turns to Bandana. Gibbs initially began writing it while he was in jail in Austria in 2017 for an alleged rape (he was later acquitted of all charges). Having memorized Madlib’s beats, the rapper wrote most of the album’s verses in a cell. “That s— pushed me to a limit that I never been pushed to,” says Gibbs about his time away. “I had to dig out of a different place to make it. I literally wrote it like it was about to be my last album. I know people always say it like, ‘Yeah, man, this is the last.’ I’m like, ‘N—-, I don’t write every rap like it’s my last, I write every rap thinking I’m gonna be able to rap tomorrow.’”
After he was released, Gibbs was back working in the studio with Madlib, once again pushing himself as an artist. “It took me to a whole other level as an MC, as a songwriter.” Madlib nods, but his perspective sounds a bit more Zen: “We just made good music — you don’t think about it too much. I trust him to take a beat. Everyone thinks we sitting here…” Calculating? Gibbs quickly chimes in, wine in hand: “All that calculator s— is for the birds.”
The duo may not strategize when it comes to making music together, but they do have one thing planned: a third album. “Piñata, Bandana, and Montana. It’s a trilogy,” says Gibbs. But could it be another five years before it sees the light of day, like the last one? “Maybe,” says Madlib, who’s currently working on another anticipated release: a new record from hip-hop superduo Yasiin Bey and Talib Kweli a.k.a. Black Star (they’ve recorded eight tracks so far). Adds Gibbs about a release date, “We don’t think about it.” Like fine wine, it will take time.