Freddie Gibbs and Madlib are an unstoppable duo. They've put out two highly-regarded projects, including one of the best albums of 2019, Bandana. Now, they've decided to revisit some Bandana highlights in a new way—with a live band.
Gibbs and Madlib have teamed up with Leon Michels and his band El Michels Affair (best known for their funky takes on the Wu-Tang catalog) to re-record three of Bandana's standouts, "Palmolive," "Gat Damn," and "Freestyle Shit." The resulting project, named The Diamond Mine Sessions after the Queens, New York studio where it was recorded, features energetic live-in-the-studio performances. It is available starting May 7 on Amazon Music. To go along with the sessions, there are also a few behind-the-scenes videos. The first of them, which Complex is proud to premiere, can be seen below.
Looking to the future, Gibbs says he and Madlib are always working on more music. "We got shit," he reveals. "We could keep going. We could do a hundred albums if the demand is there for it. We got so many records, bro. Whenever we ready to push the button, it's over with."
For now, Gibbs is laying low, playing golf, and finally back on Instagram after being temporarily banned. "They don't want no smoke," he says. "Instagram needs me. Twitter, they need me. They need people like me to point the finger at. I'm the bad guy. I'm the Instagram bad guy, man. What you going to do, look at J. Cole's page? Come on, man. Get out of here. Scram, dog."
Complex hopped on the phone with Freddie Gibbs and Leon Michels to find out more about how this project came to be, hear about future collaborations, see how Gibbs' golf game is progressing, and more.
Leon, can you just give me a rundown of what this project is and how you put it together?
Leon Michels: Yeah. We did the Tiny Desk Concert in December. All of us were enjoying ourselves so much that we tried to figure out another outlet to do something like that, a live version of Bandana songs. And then Egon [Alapatt], Madlib's manager, figured this whole thing out.
How did you decide on these three songs?
Leon Michels: Well, we've done the entire record in one form or another. We rehearsed and recorded pretty much all the songs. But "Freestyle Shit" is kind of a no-brainer, because we got the horns—all we really had to do was just play the song. "Palmolive," that one just sounded good. We made up some new horn lines and then Freddie freestyled this whole outro thing, which is cool. And then... what was the third one?
"Gat Damn," which is the most drastically changed.
Leon Michels: Is it?
It sounded faster.
Leon Michels: I feel like everything was way faster. I think we were maybe a good four or five bottles of champagne in by ["Gat Damn"], so everything got real fast. When I heard it back, I was like, how does Freddie actually do that? That's the thing about Freddie, man. We could have played any tempo, and he's right there in the pocket.
Freddie, how was rapping "Gat Damn" at that tempo?
Freddie Gibbs: Anything that Leon was doing, I was just making a mirror to the beat, man. I know that my words are powerful enough that I could stretch them over any track. So I didn't even look at it as really a challenge. Like, I could rap over goddamn "Old McDonald Had a Farm," it don't even matter. Ain't nobody else as good as me, man. I could do it over anything. That just lets you know my shit is powerful.
How was it creating arrangements for this stuff?
Leon Michels: Well, I did that for the Wu-Tang records [the El Michels Affair's Enter the 37th Chamber and Return to the 37th Chamber]. I've done stuff like this before. It's really just listening to the songs, picking out the parts that I like the most, and then assigning an instrument to it. Like in "Gat Damn," there's this funny synth that's slightly out of tune or in another key, but it's a really cool part. So the horns just play that. Everything was quick. The first time we rehearsed, it took us like 45 minutes to figure it all out, and then we just went out and got hamburgers.
Was it different for you to rap over live drums, as opposed to over samples?
Freddie Gibbs: It is different, but it's more soul, you know what I mean? It's like when I do a live show. It's a different kind of salt you put on it when you're doing it with a live band. Every time I get in with Leon and them, they're pushing me to go further as a rapper. I know I can take it. I think that's real steel, because I don't see a lot of guys that could rap with a live band and still feel the music come across as beautiful as it did on the track.
Freddie, in the video, you do a little James Brown thing, joking around and saying "Night Train." Was James a model for these performances?
Freddie Gibbs: You know what, man? I'm going to be real with you. I watched the James Brown movie right before I went in there, so that's the only thing I was thinking about. I was like, I got to bring that James Brown energy to the room, you know what I mean? So, that's what I was focused on. I was like, I got to be that animated, I got to be that vocal, I got to be that smooth. I mean, shit, Leon and them, they laid the groundwork. All I got to do is just go in there and just be me. They make it easy for me. It's like Phil Jackson and the triangle offense. They put it all together, and when I get out there, they can't fuck with me.
Which James Brown movie? Was it the biopic [Get on Up]?
Freddie Gibbs: Yeah, the biopic. The one where the nigga from Black Panther [Chadwick Boseman] plays him.
"I heard somebody on Twitter say something like MF DOOM is better than me, and I was like, nah, y'all got me f*cked up. Whenever you say a rapper's better than me, I got to prove you wrong."
You mentioned in the video that you and Madlib basically have a permanent partnership now. Was that something you two ever talked about?
Freddie Gibbs: I think it's something that just happened, man. The first time [2014's Piñata], it was something new to me. When it caught on, it was like wow, this is crazy. Then the second time [when making Bandana], I got tired of motherfuckers talking about MF DOOM and what the fuck DOOM did with Madlib. I don't give a fuck about none of that shit. I was like, man, he can't fuck with me. So I went in with that mindset. The challenge was like, yo, I got to make something better than what they did with that Madvillain shit. That's cool and all. But I was like, "Man, shit, I'm me. That nigga can't rap like me, so let me prove that I'm the best nigga to rap on these Madlib tracks." That was my thing. It was motivated. I'm a very competitive person. I heard somebody on Twitter say something like MF DOOM is better than me, and I was like, nah, y'all got me fucked up. Whenever you say a rapper's better than me, I got to prove you wrong.
Have you and Madlib started working on a follow-up?
Freddie Gibbs: I mean, we always, I'm always working on some kind of music. Now, is Madlib ready to push the button on another album? I don't know yet. But I'm always working on music. We got shit. We could keep going. We could do a hundred albums if the demand is there for it. We got so many records, bro. Whenever we ready to push the button, it's over with.
Freddie, I saw you temporarily got thrown off Instagram, although you're back now. Did you create a new account under a fake name while you were banned?
Freddie Gibbs: Oh, no. Hell no. I didn't do that. They didn't want to take me off. They don't want no smoke. Instagram needs me. Twitter, they need me. They need people like me to point the finger at. I'm the bad guy. I'm the Instagram bad guy, man. What you going to do, look at J. Cole's page? Come on, man. Get out of here. Scram, dog. I'm the bad guy. Say hello to the bad guy, man. They need me. They can't get rid of me. I am Instagram. I run this shit. They can't do without me.
Leon, do you think you'll do anything else in this vein, reinterpreting rap songs?
Leon Michels: I mean, honestly, before we did this with Freddie and Otis [Madlib], because I did that Wu-Tang shit, I didn't want to do live hip hop like that again. I don't want to be like the guy that just does live hip hop. But Freddie and Otis, that's some other shit. The stuff we made, you can't even really call it hip hop.
Freddie Gibbs: It's like jazz.
Leon Michels: Yeah. Basically, it's like some jazz shit. I haven't heard anything like it. I don't think anyone else has, either.
Why do you think the songs from Bandana have resonated so much? What are they providing in music that is missing otherwise?
Freddie Gibbs: I think that we're definitely doing something different. Like I said before, I don't even know a rapper that could rap on live drums, really, right now. It's probably only like 10 of them, like probably 10 motherfuckers walking around. Think about that: 10 rappers out of motherfucking 500 million niggas. You know what I'm saying?
I don't give a fuck about none of these rapper-ass niggas, man. Motherfuckers on this high and mighty shit. Fuck that shit, man. I know these niggas can't do what I do. Motherfuckers got to do headline shit and they doing everything other than rapping. I'm not going to do that weird shit, man. I've been doing this shit professionally for the last, shit, since I dropped Piñata.
Is there anyone you feel like is a peer right now? Who's putting out stuff you respect?
Freddie Gibbs: Oh, the best rapper is Kendrick. He's the only one that I look at and be like, okay, that's a challenge. Everybody else, I'll be like, all right, whatever. There's some good rappers. I like some rappers. But Kendrick and Black Thought, from the competitive side of me, it's a challenge from those two guys. To me, they're the best rappers, period. I don't even like to try to compare myself to nobody else. I just look at them. They kind of set a measuring stick for me as an MC. I think they technically rap the best. Ain't nobody rapping on they level except me.
How have you guys been handling the whole quarantine thing?
Freddie Gibbs: I'm in a grocery store quarantined right now. Like masked up, chilling. I actually been playing golf. I believe in the virus, but I believe in God more than that, so I'm not really walking around out here scared. I'm just doing what I got to do and getting it poppin'. I got my kids down here in Palm Springs, man, playing golf. Fuck coronavirus, man.
What's your handicap these days?
Freddie Gibbs: My handicap? I don't know. It might be like a minus three or some shit. I'm bad. I'm trash. Definitely not a good golfer.
Leon, as someone who spends a lot of time in recording studios, none of which are open now, how are you dealing with the pandemic?
Leon Michels: I mean, I'm not doing shit. I haven't made music in like five weeks. But I'm chilling. Driving around my kids, eating a lot. I should be on the golf course.
Freddie, you and Madlib were touring Bandana really heavy before all this started. Have you started thinking about like what your first performance is going to be like once concerts start up again?
Freddie Gibbs: Whatever it's going to be, it's going to be at somebody's strip club, because I need to go see some ass. Go do a strip club tour, you know what I mean? That's going to be the first stop. Anything after that is cool, but I got to get that shit out of my system first.
"The best rapper is Kendrick. He's the only one that I look at and be like, okay, that's a challenge."
Anything else you want people to know about this project, or what you guys have coming up?
Freddie Gibbs: Yeah. I want everybody to know that I'm the best rapper for sure. I feel that way, and I don't really care about anybody else feel. And I'm going to show it. I'm going to talk shit in interviews, but I ain't going to talk too much shit on Twitter and Instagram about my rapping ability. I'm just going to show it. But the interviews, this is the greatest platform for me to do this shit. So any rapper want it, come and get it.
Leon, any final thoughts about working with Freddie and Madlib?
Leon Michels: We got a whole record of this stuff coming up.
Freddie Gibbs: It's a classic, bro. It's a classic.
Were there new songs recorded during this session?
Leon Michels: Oh, yeah.
Freddie Gibbs: Hey Lee, what's the name of that shit we did? "Valentine"? "Funny Valentine"! Come on, man. That's a jam.
As in "My Funny Valentine," the standard?
Leon Michels: No. It's a new song. Just has the same title.
Freddie Gibbs: You ain't seen nothing like this since JAY-Z Unplugged. For real, it's the best since JAY-Z.