Madvillain, MF Doom, Madlib

(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Madvillainy (2004), 7/10
Lootpack: Soundpieces: Da Antidote (1999), 5/10
Quasimoto: The Unseen (2000), 7.5/10
Yesterdays New Quintet: Angles Without Edges (2001), 6.5/10
Jaylib: Champion Sound (2003), 4/10
DJ Rels: Theme for a Broken Soul (2004), 4/10
Sound Directions: The Funky Side Of Life (2005), 4/10
Madlib: Shades of Blue (2003), 5/10
Quasimoto: The Further Adventures of Lord Quas (2005), 6.5/10
The Beat Konducta Vol. 1-2 (2006), 6/10
Beat Konducta Vol. 3-4 (2007), 6/10
Liberation: Liberation (2007), 4.5/10
King Of The Wigflip (2008), 6/10
Jackson Conti: Sujinho (2008), 4.5/10
Beat Konducta Vol. 5-6 (2009), 6/10
Quasimoto: Yessir Whatever (2013), 4/10
Rock Konducta Part One (2013), 6/10
Pinata (2014), 6/10
Bad Neighbor (2015), 4/10
MadGibbs: Bandana (2019), 6/10
Madlib: Sound Ancestors (2021), 5.5/10
MF Doom:
Operation Doomsday (1999), 6/10
King Geedorah: Take Me to Your Leader (2003), 6/10
Viktor Vaughn: Vaudeville Villain (2003), 6.5/10
Viktor Vaughn: Venomous Villain (2004), 5/10
Mm Food (2004), 5/10
Dangerdoom: The Mouse And The Mask (2005), 6/10
Doom: Born Like This (2009), 5/10
JJ Doom: Key To The Kuffs (2012), 5/10

Madvillain was a collaboration between New York-based rapper Daniel "MF Doom" Dumile (former member of comical hip-hop posse KMD), and Los Angeles-based producer Otis "Madlib" Jackson (the son of a bluesman and a folksinger, and the nephew of jazz trumpeter Jon Faddis), who had already experimented with the collage technique as the one-man band Yesterday's New Quintet (fictitiously described as a "quintet") on Angels Without Edges (Stones Throw, 2001), building songs (mostly smooth soul-jazz-funk instrumental ballads) out of microscopic fragments of keyboards, guitar, sax, vibraphone, drums and bass (not samples, but his own creations).

Their collaboration yielded one of the most publicized albums in the history of hip-hop music, Madvillainy (Stones Throw, 2004). While every magazine bragged about it, very few reviews could explain what the excitement was all about. Madlib's sophisticated beat-art and orchestration made it an impressive tour de force of production techniques, but it was a far cry from the purported masterpiece of hip-hop. Fragmented into 22 brief vignettes, it was both a stylistic phantasmagoria and a cartoonish concept album. The album is mainly noteworthy for Madlib's eclectic, encyclopedic, drunk/stoned and, at the same time, classy production, although it is debatable whether his beats here were as creative as on the Quasimoto album. There isn't a continuous vision but rather fleeting moments of brilliance, for example the two instrumentals: Sickfit, that mixes exotic tones and minimalist repetition, and Supervillain Theme, with its hypnotic guitar pattern. Two tracks, Rhinestone Cowboy and Strange Ways, were entirely designed and implemented using the tiny sampler SP-303 (introduced by Roland in 1998). Some productions are cheap tricks, like the accordion-driven Accordion, but many are the real heart of the song, like the bouncy swinging piano lines in Raid, or the funky beat drenched in viscous vintage organ tones in Curls, or the slow noir industrial beat of Rhinestone Cowboy, the seismic beat of Fancy Clown, the suspenseful beat of Shadows of Tomorrow, and especially the warped and chaotic All Caps. America's Most Blunted weds chaotic vocal interplay with a booming, jumping beat while sampling Sun Ra's Atlantis and Steve Reich's Come Out. The samples are all over the place: Do Not Fire joins the videogame Street Fighter with Bollywood soundtracks. The profusion of samples is disorienting: low-budget crime and horror movies, television commercials, jazz and avantgarde records of the 1960s, Hanna Barbera cartoons, and countless discussions about supervillains. The vast majority are "cheesy", creating a clownish counterpoint to whatever it is being rapped. Meat Grinder begins with comic interlude that almost demystifies the thick bass line. The ultimate cheese moment is Rainbows, with parodistic Frank Zappa-esque crooning and a horn fanfare. The rapping is not as flashy as the production, but it peaks in Figaro, the one song in which Doom sounds truly villainous. Alas, the scattershot format of the album eventually becomes cluttered noise. Too much of the album is tedious rapping over facile collages of samples. The fleeting moments of genius should have been expanded, and the long stretches of mediocrity should have been pruned out.

Madlib's solo career, mostly obsessed with the legacy of jazz, had been fairly intense, comprising: Lootpack's Soundpieces: Da Antidote (1999), a celebration of classic hip-hop music ruined by the rappers (Jack "Wildchild" Brown and Otis Jackson himself disguised as Quasimoto via manipulations of his own voice), and its companion Soundpieces: Da Instrumentals (1999), albums on which he had already displayed his cut-and-paste production skills. Madlib assumed the persona of Quasimoto for The Unseen (2000), possibly his artistic zenith, on which he himself raps, sometimes in his real voice and sometimes in a high-pitched falsetto, over his post-psychedelic soundscapes constructed by painstakingly juxtaposing samples of old records, mostly jazz records, in what constitutes a veritable record-store travelogue. By amalgamating musicians of different eras and different genres, Madlib the musicologist connected dots that had rarely been connected, weaving threads from bebop to soul and rock, and even turning commercials, cartoon music and film soundtracks into close relatives of avantgarde music. The album is a monumental post-modern exercise, music that reflects about itself, music of music. The other key element is the choreography of real, high-pitched and sampled vocals, which sometimes are also chopped-up. It's that vocal choreography that injects life into Bad Character, with samples of I'm a Bad Character by Melvin Van Peebles (1972) and Butterfly Bleu by Iron Butterfly (1970); and in Astro Black, with samples of Joe Cocker's Woman to Woman (1972) and hip-hop duo Super Lover Cee & Casanova Rud's I Gotta Good Thing (1988), over music taken from Sun Ra's Astro Black (1973) and from a 1967 instrumental medley of soul-jazz band Young-Holt Unlimited (more famous for the hit Soulful Strut of the following year); and in Astro Travellin, that joins the voices of soul group the Dynamics's Get Myself High (Soul) (1973) and of rapper Nas' It Ain't Hard to Tell (1994) with the sound of Armageddon (1969) by San Francisco psych-rock obscurity The Maze and of two British jazz-rock bands, Nucleus, namely their Ariadne (1973), and Paz, namely their Laying Eggs (1982). The languid Discipline 99 Pt 1 ends up as a tribute to rap music with citations from Common Sense's I Used to Love H.E.R. (1994), Antonio "Big Daddy Kane" Hardy's Ain't No Half-Steppin' (1988) Gang Starr's Flip the Script (1992) Brand Nubian's Word Is Bond (1994) D&D All-Stars's 1, 2 Pass It (1995), Busta Rhymes' Live to Regret (1996) and EPMD's You Gots to Chill (1988) over traces of Future Shock (1973) by James Brown's saxophonist Maceo Parker. Madlib's extravagant cacophony of sources is dizzying. Microphone Mathematics unites two great jazz compositions, Don Cherry's Complete Communion (1966) and Thelonious Monk's Pannonica (1959), with De La Soul's The Bizness (1996), The Meek Ain't Gonna (1969) by spoken-word artists the Watts Prophets, Rain Rain Go Away (1968) by Egyptian singer Bob Azzam, and fellow rapper Dudley "Declaime" Perkins' Skit #1 (1999). Discipline 99 Pt 0 exploits Harlem Medley (1970) by soundtrack composer Galt MacDermot (more famous as the composer of the musical Hair) and Two Little Boys by spoken-word artists The Last Poets (1970) and doesn't hesitate to throw in a "Dying of Nothing" scene from the TV stand-up comedy series "On Location" (1978). Boom Music, which is indeed booming but also manages to sound Chinese, best albums, ratings soul music of the 1960s, as represented by Sam & Dave's When Something Is Wrong With My Baby (1966) and May I Baby (1967) and Syl Johnson's Different Strokes (1967), with post-disco hip-hop, represented by rapper Ronnie Gee's Raptivity (1980) and producer Joseph "Diamond D" Kirkland's A Day in the Life (1992). The Unseen packs together David Axelrod's The Signs Part II (1970), Moby Grape's Boysenberry Jam (1968), James Brown's Escape-Ism (1971), jazz singer Marlena Shaw's California Soul (1969), funk band 9th Creation's Bubble Gum (1975) and hip-hop duo Audio Two's Top Billin' (1987) in another visceral experience. The shuffle Return of the Loop Digga, interrupted by a dialogue with a record-store owner, samples 13 songs: The Electric Prunes' Holy Are You (1968), Ike & Tina Turner's Cussin' Cryin' and Carryin' On (1969), David Axelrod's A Divine Image (1969), Galt MacDermot's Stockyard (1970), Black Sabbath's Behind the Wall of Sleep (1970), Johnny Harris' theme of Richard Sarafian's movie Fragment of Fear (1970), soul singer Gene McDaniels's Supermarket Blues, taken from his album Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse (1971), Kool And The Gang's North East South West (1972), jazz tenor saxophonist Tyrone Washington's Submission (1973), the Impressions's On the Move (1974), jazz saxophonist Ronnie Laws's Tidal Wave (1975), Darkuman Junktion (1978) by funk-soul ensemble Sons & Daughters of Lite, led by flutist Basuki Bala, Poo Too (1975) by Afro-jazz ensemble Oneness of Juju, led by saxophonist James "Plunky" Branch. Real Eyes, a very minor song, mixes skits by standup comedian Bill Cosby, library Bali music recorded by Benito Simoncini (aka Arawak), the voice of dj Aston "Funkmaster Flex" Taylor, Mobb Deep's Survival of the Fittest (1995), Ol' Dirty Bastard's Shimmy Shimmy Ya (1995), rapper Reginald "Lord Digga" Ellis' My Flows Is Tight (1998), jazz harpist Dorothy Ashby's The Moving Finger (1970), jazz drummer Redd Holt's Takers (1974), two Flora Purim songs from 1978 (You Are My Heart and Love's the Way I Feel 'Bout Cha), and the funk jam High as Apple Pie (1970) by Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band. 24-7 bridges reggae, represented by two songs by Jamaican singer Jacob Miller, False Rasta (1976) and Hungry Town Scanc (1975), and smooth jazz, represented by The Dells's When You're Alone (1972), and Andy Bey's Celestial Blues (1974). It's all smashed and dynamited out of context. Samples are used not as weapons but as decoys, to throw off the superficial understanding of a song. Goodmorning Sunshine, in theory a cover of Melvin Van Peebles's Heh Heh Good Morning Sunshine (1974) emphasizing children's voices, opens with Jamaican dub guru Augustus Pablo's instrumental Unfinished Melody (1978), adds fellow dub master Prince Jammy's Wafer Scale Integration (1986) , and contaminates it with Back in the Country (1972), an obscure song by Norman "Hurricane" Smith (more famous as the producer of Pink Floyd's first three albums). Come on Feet, theoretically a cover of Melvin Van Peebles's Come on Feet Do Your Thing (1971), with drums lifted from Little Feat's Fool Yourself (1973), surreal/alien noise and indulges in a trance-like atmosphere based on Alain Goraguer's soundtrack for Rene' Laloux's animated sci-fi movie La Planete Sauvage (1973). Green Power is another song based on silly Melvin Van Peebles' ditties (Salamaggi's Birthday and Three Boxes of Longs Please of 1974) but then taken to another plane via George Russell's Manhattan (1959), jazz pianist Bobby Lyle's Inner Space (1978), funk band Mandrill's Khidja (1974), De La Soul's Itzsoweezee (1996), and obscurities such as a movie theme composed by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter for Russ Meyer's MotorPsycho (1965) and The Long One (1975) by Australian fusion group Arena, led by led by saxophone player Ted White. Low Class Conspiracy deconstructs an organ phrase from Jimmy Smith's and Wes Montgomery's Mellow Mood (1969) and dresses it up with quacking electronics. MHBs downshifts to a more relaxed or at least less claustrophobic atmosphere with samples of strings and ecstatic vocals taken from Quincy Jones's Snow Creatures (1970), Kool & the Gang's Little Children (1976) and Open Sesame (1976), soul singer Bobby Byrd's Hot Pants - I'm Coming, I'm Coming, I'm Coming (1972), and funk band New Birth's You Are What I'm All About (1972). And Jazz Cats Pt 1 is a magisterial tribute to jazz music, a collage of John Coltrane's Central Park West (1964), Tyrone Washington's Universal Spiritual Revolt, two songs from Cannonball Adderley's Black Messiah (1971), namely George Duke's Circumference and Ernie Watts' Eye of the Cosmos, and two from Herbie Hancock's Empyrean Isles (1964), namely The Egg (the backbone of the song's beat) and Oliloqui Valley. Bluffin crosses Ahmad Jamal's Extensions (1972) with Track the Movement by hip-hop artists Lord Finesse and DJ Mike Smooth (1990). For just one minute in Blitz, Maynard Ferguson's MacArthur Park (1970) coexists with Mobb Deep's Survival of the Fittest (1995).

The Yesterdays New Quintet was a fictitious jazz group formed by Madlib with Joe McDuphrey on keyboards, Malik Flavors on percussion, Ahmad Miller on guitar and vibraphone, Monk Hughes on bass and Otis Jackson Jr on drums (all of them non-existent). Following the EPs Elle's Theme (2000), Bomb Shelter (2001) and Uno Esta (2001), the album Angles Without Edges (2001) was a marvel of stylistic appropriation. Abandoning hip-hop, Madlib revealed his jazz producer a` la Teo Macero or Quincy Jones, penning the laid-back funky lounge music Papa, the grotesque Caribbean dance Keeper Of My Soul, the energetic pan-stylistic jams like The One Who Knows, the ebullient and hypnotic samba Paladium, Madlib's eclecticism is stunning, but the results are certainly not groundbreaking. This is basically a tribute to 30 years of light fusion-jazz. The most original moments are to be found in the electronic vignette Uno Esta and in the booming beat and alien synths of Mestizo Eyes. Astronaut (2002) on the self-titled three-song EP is a worthy appendix to this album.

It was followed by the disappointing Champion Sound (2003), credited to Jaylib, a collaboration with J Dilla (half of the songs produced by Madlib and sung by J Dilla and the other half produced by J Dilla and sung by Madlib), and by its companion Champion Sound Instrumentals (2003), which were reissed as the double-CD Champion Sound Reissue (Stones Throw, 2007), and by Madlib's personal revision of the Blue Note catalog, Shades of Blue (2003). As DJ Rels, Madlib also released an album of house music, Theme for a Broken Soul (2004).

Quasimoto was resurrected for The Further Adventures of Lord Quas (Stones Throw, 2005), another demented collage of genres and another cartoonish saga. Unfortunately the spoken-word sections (which are not really "raps") are not always a plus. This album's songs tend to be more eccentric in themselves, regardless of the samples, which, in fact, are used in more moderate amounts. The nervous electronic background of drug anthem Greenery and the quacking electronic counterpoint of Shroom Music show Madlib's disrespectful appropriation of the synthesizer. The dissonant and chaotic Strange Piano, that somehow emerges from the ruins of Leo Muller's space-age music A Lunar Adventure in the Year 1985 (1966) and of the garage-rock of the Greek Fountains' An Experimented Terror (1967), and the surreal chant of Life Is, that somehow sounds like a David Peel outtake despite quoting Bob Marley's Duppy Conqueror (1971) and Melvin Van Peebles's Chippin' (1974), belong to his insane post-psychedelic creativity. This time the music is truly working for the texts, with powerful results in the harrowing orchestration of a Martin Luther King speech in Tomorrow Never Knows and in the wild ride of Maingirl, a sort of industrial Bollywood remix, with Gong's Eat That Phone Book Coda (1973), Herbie Hancock's Training Day (1973) and Lata Mangeshkar's Poorab Disa Se Pardesi Aya (1973). The jazz influence is relatively subdued here, although the swirling orchestral melody of Bartender Say borrows from two jazz songs, Lenny White's I'll See You Soon (1978) and Herbie Hancock's Gentle Thoughts (1976). The best sample placement occurs perhaps in Closer, with Doris Svensson's psychedelic jazz ballad You Never Come Closer floating inside the verses. The quasi-disco Don't Blink employs Thomas Valentino's sound effects of the 1930s and Simon Park's soundtrack theme Coaster (1982), besides snippets from two Melvin Van Peebles songs, namely Mirror Mirror on the Wall (1971) and Lilly Done the Zampoughi Everytime I Pulled Her Coattail (1969). The tragicomic Raw Deal (a sequel of sorts to Come on Feet) references funk group Creations Unlimited's Chrystal Illusion (1972) and Neil Diamond's little known The Pot Smokers Song (1968). The album is generally lightweight in the first half, but picks up dramatic power in the second half. The exhilarating and hilarious The Clown (Episode C) samples nine songs, including a Bollywood soundtrack of 1975, Isaac Hayes' Ike's Mood I (1970), and raps of the 1990s, e.g. the Roots' Glitches (2001). Raw Addict Pt 2 combines sinister beat, suspenseful organ and shrill guitar riff for maximum effect. And Privacy ends the album with a sort of piano-driven charleston and with the sounds of a beating. Some of the songs are punchier than any on Unseen but the production pyrotechnics of Unseen remains unmatched.

Besides its own albums Heaven Must Be Like This (2002) and Deja Vu (2002), and the EP Suite for Weldon (2003), the Yesterdays New Quintet spawned several recordings by its imaginary members: Joe McDuphrey Experience's EPs Experience (2002) and Entrando Pela Janela (2004), Ahmad Miller's EP Say Ah (2003), Monk Hughes & The Outer Realm's A Tribute to Brother Weldon (2004), Malik Flavors' EP Ugly Beauty (2004), Sound Directions' The Funky Side Of Life (2005), devoted to covers of early 1970s funk and soul songs, and Wildflower (2007), the Young Jazz Rebels' EP Miss K (2006), the Otis Jackson Jr Trio's EP Jewelz (2007), and Yesterdays Universe (2007), a compilation of various related projects (Young Jazz Rebels, The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble, Sound Directions, Jahari Masamba Unit, and Jackson Conti). The Yesterdays New Quintet's album Stevie (2003) was an instrumental tribute to Stevie Wonder. Then the Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble released Summer Suite (2007), Fall Suite (2009) and Miles Away (2010); Jackson Conti released Sujinho (2008); Young Jazz Rebels released Slave Riot (2010); R.M.C. debuted with Space & Time (2010); and High Jazz (2010) was finally credited to Madlib himself.

London-born hoarse rapper Daniel Dumile started out as Zev Love, the mastermind of KMD, whose Mr Hood (1991) and Bl_ck B_st_rds (1993), released only in 2000, were militant Islamic pamphlets. After a long hiatus, Dumile released two albums as MF Doom, impersonating a Marvel Comics-influenced rambling supervillain, Operation Doomsday (1999), produced by himself mostly sampling cartoons, and the mediocre, even more cartoonish Mm Food (2004); one as King Geedorah, Take Me to Your Leader (2003), a hilarious sample-heavy tribute to horror sci-fi movies; and two as Viktor Vaughan, Vaudeville Villain (2003), drenched in a dark, ominous atmosphere of glitchy electronic soundscapes with perhaps his best beats and productions; and Venomous Villain (2004), that instead feels like a collection of leftovers. The rapping being mostly nonsensical, it was the production that elevated his best moments over the agerage hip-hop music of the time.

MF Doom lent his rapping skills to Dangerdoom's The Mouse And The Mask (2005), a collaboration with producer Danger Mouse resulting in classy fun party music but hardly revolutionary.

Madlib's The Beat Konducta Vol. 1-2 (Stones Throw, 2006) contains 35 hip-hop instrumental audio collages crafted with turntables, samplers and drum machines. Beat Konducta Vol. 3-4 (Stones Throw, 2007) targeted Bollywood film music. Liberation (2007) was a collaboration between Madlib and Talib Kweli. Jackson Conti's Sujinho (2008) was a collaboration with Azymuth's drummer Ivan Conti. Madlib's King Of The Wigflip (Rapster, 2008) is a collage of samples (both ordinary found sounds and snippets of music). Madlib also produced Percee P's debut Perseverance (2007), Strong Arm Steady's second album In Search of Stoney Jackson (2010), Guilty Simpson's second album O.J. Simpson (2010), and Georgia Anne Muldrow's Seeds (2012).

Daniel Dumile dropped MF from his "nome de guerre" for Born Like This (2009), a faithful but uninspired recreation of his sound (better as a rapper than as a producer). Unexpected Guests (2009) is a compilation of Doom rarities.

Madlib and J-Rocc released Beat Konducta Vol. 5-6: Dil Cosby / Dil Withers Suite (Stones Throw, 2009), a tribute album to the late J Dilla.

Madlib's Speto Da Rua: Dirty Brasilian Crates Vol. 1 (Mochilla, 2009) is a mix of Brazilian music. Madlib also composed the soundtrack for the documentary on A Tribe Called Quest, Beats, Rhymes & Life (2011). Madlib Medicine Show was a series of monthly mixtapes that started in 2009.

Jneiro Jarel produced and probably architected Daniel "MF Doom" Dumile's Key To The Kuffs (Lex, 2012), appropriately credited to JJ Doom. The negligible cameos of Damon Albarn (Blur/Gorillaz) and Beth Gibbons (Portishead) helped publicize the album but the only interest lies in Jarel's demented collages.

A collaboration between Madlib and Indiana's gangster rapper Freddie Gibbs yielded three EPs: Thuggin' (2011), Shame (2012) and Deeper (2013). These were followed by the (much hyped) full-length Pinata (Madlib Invazion, 2014). Madlib's sprinkled production barely mattered, and the duo had to engage a plethora of guests (Ab-Soul, BJ the Chicago Kid, Danny Brown, Domo Genesis, Mac Miller, Raekwon, Scarface, Earl Sweatshirt) to lift Gibbs' storytelling from monotony. Five years later the collaboration was repeated on Bandana (2019), credited to MadGibbs. It was another demonstration of virtuoso delivery and wordplay, and this time Gibbs was up to the task with some of the most visceral performances of his career, while Madlib injected jazzy elements (especially in Freestyle Shit) and even trap beats (especially in Half Manne Half Cocaine). Meanwhile, Madlib concocted the much more experimental instruments of Rock Konducta Part One (2013) and resurrected Quasimoto for a compilation of rarities and outtakes that make for an album of conventional hip-hop, Yessir Whatever (2013). Other Madlib collaborations included: Trouble Knows Me (2015) with Hemlock Ernst, Bad Neighbor (2015) with rappers MED and Blu, and The Professionals (2020) with Oh No. Madlib and jazz drummer Kariem Riggins formed the imaginary ensemble Jahari Massamba Unit that debuted on Pardon My French (2020).

MF Doom collaborated with Wu-Tang Clan's Inspectah Deck and Esoteric on Czarface Meets Metal Face (2018), the only substantial release by Doom in a decade.

Madlib's (mostly) instrumental album Sound Ancestors (2021) was an underwhelming collaboration with Kieran Hebden of Four Tet: Madlib laid down his intricate beats (with a preference for vintage soul samples) and Hebden crafted the plaintive and occasionally disorienting arrangements. They are mostly brief ideas, sketches, atmospheres, the hip-hop equivalent of Brian Eno's "ambient" vignettes, that flow smoothly taking few chances; a perfect soundtrack for falling asleep. You wake up when Dirtknock intones its cubistic ballet. Truly creative sampling and dissonant chamber music meet in Hopprock. If Hang Out (Phone Off) feels like a convoluted tribute to funk-soul of the 1970s, Duumbiyay launches in a frantic African-jazzy dance. Hebden's interventions don't seem to align with Madlib's beat philosophy, which, depending on taste, can mean an addition or a subtraction. Four Tet rationalizes the wildly irrational Madlib vision of music in an austere and almost spiritual atmosphere.

Daniel "MF Doom" Dumile died in 2020 at the age of 49.

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(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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