by Dan-O (after Nate Patrin)
I have massive blind spots in my hip hop history that all trace back to the same period. On Sept 22nd, 1999 when MF Doom released the classic album Operation Doomsday I was getting on a bus to go from basic training to advanced training. Wiki states the release date of the legendary Lootpack album Soundpieces: Da Antidote that started Madlib’s legend was June 29, 1999 (I can feel Dart Adams yelling at these dates) and it was on that very day I was packing my things and going into the United States Army for college money and college money alone.
By the time I got out of the service in late 2002 I had lot on my mind. Madlib had already put together a Jazz album himself, pumped out the first Beat Konducta, Quasimoto album and become a work ethic legend. By the time I heard about him having an album called The Unseen under a different name with a pitched up voice I had no idea what I was listening for. I became one of those people who called Madlib overrated simply because I couldn’t grasp the volume and creative impact. That can’t be all him? He took a $200 machine the length of my foot to a hotel in Brazil and made this beat? Huh?
Nate Patrin’s fine work in his recent book on sampling (Bring That Beat Back) really brought me face to face with everything I missed. He patiently and convincingly articulated all the unachievable details of one of hip hops most influential careers. I googled “best Madlib albums” and found an article laying out a strong case for albums I had either heard of and not dug into or never heard of and guess who wrote it? Nate Patrin back in 2017.
So Nate is going to get me Madlib educated. Here are five songs from albums I have been digging that really lay out the case for how far reaching his sound goes.
Moonride by DJ Rels off Theme For A Broken Soul
In 2004 Madlib released an Electronic/House album under the name DJ Rels. Moonride really captures the notion that listening to Madlib during the early 2000’s wasn’t like hearing a beat from a great producer. As an example, 9th Wonder is a great producer. If you watch his Rhythm Roulette on youtube he cuts up a sample and make his kind of beat in no time. He knows the structure of what he does. Listening to Madlib was like hearing someone perform. No intention on creating a framework or structure to work from in the future just pushing sounds together in unreasonable unregulated ways, flying through genres and influences to find new places and moving on.
Fourty Days by Sound Directions off The Funky Side of Life
Another killer Jazz album under a fake name (released in 2005). Where he is playing instruments and making up names for the fictional band. Very few people have as easy a grasp on the connective tissue from Jazz to Funk to Soul to R & B to Hip Hop. Fourty Days ,as gorgeous as it is, might have been one of seven or more tracks he made that day, which is staggering. A complete rebellion against the perfectionist Detox model of making everything as clean as it can be no matter how long it takes. Madlib knows what done sounds like and very few creators really do.
Movie Finale by Madlib off Beat Konducta Vol. 3 & 4: In India
Having missed the Madlib timeline I was floored on my first listen to this album from 2007 to find a bunch of my favorite beats (or portions of beats) from my favorite Mos Def album (The Ecstatic, 2009). One of the things I deeply admire about Madlib’s journey through various forms of music is that he doesn’t imitate cultural sounds, he won’t clip a sitar sound to dump on top of a standard hip hop format. His process is to take everything he has learned and just live in the space he’s in while creating. So you hear the sonic DNA of India organically becoming as mean as James Brown’s The Big Payback which eventually becomes a platform for my favorite period of Mos Def meeting one of my favorite Slick Rick verses ever(Auditorium). WOW I owe this dude.
Song For My Father by Madlib featuring Sound Directions off Shades of Blue
I can’t even handle this one. I love Horace Silver’s 1965 album Song For My Father so much ,for it’s thick soul and his heavy fingers on the keys, that this tribute is like candy covered candy. Madlib keeps the funk and the plodding soul but adds more. The guitar feists on the song space and the pace tightens up only to release as the hi-hat leads. It’s an evolutionary construction, not a re-do or a remix but a tasteful layering that ends in Horace Silvers voice articulating his own longevity.
The Get Over by Madlib off Beat Konducta Vol. 5
Another thing that separates him from producers who might be “classic era” is that some of them end up working in a specific tempo. Apollo Brown in an interview stated he works in mid tempo boom bap and that’s that. It’s what he likes to do. Madlib ping pongs from mid tempo to thrashing banger to light and beautiful, nothing is outside of his range. You could have given this beat to Freeway and Beanie back in the ROC days and had chart gold.
Read Nate Patrin’s article
Check out his awesome book