In the early 1990′s, both Madlib and MF Doom were considered barely breaking hip-hop rookies. Neither was on anyone’s best emcee or best producer lists, and nobody was terribly excited when their names were attached to releases. That’s because, at that point, they were virtually unknowns. And while the two didn’t know each other, both were just beginning their careers, with Madlib laying the foundation as a future underground super-producer, turning in a few beats for The Alkaholiks debut album (“Mary Jane”, anyone?), while Doom, then known as Zev Luv X, was one-third of the righteous hip-hop act, KMD. Looking back on that era, both artists contributed to classic albums, but who knew that they would one day hook up an arguably create a classic together?
Persistence, hard work, and a standard of quality is what has kept both Madlib and MF Doom in the game for so many years, each achieving a level of respect that many of their peers have lost. With the 1990′s well over, and the short-lived independent hip-hop 12inch movement producing only few survivors, Madlib and MF Doom join forces for Madvillainy, a conceptual record entirely produced by Madlib, with rhymes by Doom.
On paper, this sounds like a brilliant idea; a no brainer – and it is. But upon first listen, it sounds like a jumbled mess; a clusterfuck of noise. However, the same can be said for early listens to Ultramagnetic MC’s Critical Beatdown, Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, Gang Starr’s Daily Operation, De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising, and Raekwon’s Only Built For Cuban Linx; each of them classic records. Madvillainy, like these essential hip-hop albums, is one long infectious groove that with each consecutive listen seeps deeper into your consciousness. And like the previously mentioned classics, it tests the boundaries of the hip-hop audience, boldly taking the artform in a new direction, without disrespecting it.
The reason this record will be initially shunned by the general hip-hop populace, is because it pretty much goes against the current formula of what a rap record is, and instead gives an accurate depiction of what a rap record was. Like these classic records before it, Madlib’s production is delved from numerous different sources, and is weaved together into one hour long piece of sheet music (to be covered by a classical orchestra 30 years from now). And finally, The Beat Conductor has an emcee who is lyrically physically fit enough and equally as wigged out on the mic as Madlib is on the beats; your host, MF Doom. Together, the duo broadcast live from the Madvillain bistro bed & breakfast, bar & grill, cafe lounge, on the water (you’ll understand later).
And because it is presented as one continuous, evolving piece of music, it’s almost impossible to single out its greatest moments. Casually listening to this record by skipping from track to track is like watching only a few scenes out of movie. Considering that most of the songs are already going against the grain in terms of typical hip-hop song structure, there is no real “single” set for radio or club play. There’s just the heavy dwyck-like bass of the duo’s theme song “America’s Most Blunted”, and the dirty, laid back 60′s jazz of “All Caps”, fueled by a flute loop with rolling pianos, and raucous horns. Brilliantly, Doom’s songs aren’t titled by a hook that is sung every 90 seconds; in fact, there’s hardly any hooks at all. Instead, Doom builds off one or two words with his entire verse built around the title, usually coming full circle by the song’s end. Two of the best examples of this style are each “Accordion” and “Rhinestone Cowboy”. Doom’s lyrics have absolutely nothing to do with the titles – meaning he doesn’t rap about accordions and cowboys for 2 minutes – but instead flows, very poetically, with a smooth voice that immediately forces head-nodding, and somehow ends up at the title. And he is perhaps one of the few emcees that can do this (stream of consciousness freestyle rhymes) successfully. He’s not overly complex with the word play (ala Aesop Rock), nor is his delivery flamboyant (ala Jay-Z), and he isn’t changing the world (ala Common); he’s simply got a beautifully monotone flow and lyrics of pure poetry.
All in all, this a record that must be treated as a full coarse meal. A record meant to be listened to in it’s entirety, so just let it play, enjoy it, and don’t let your preconceived notions of what hip-hop is supposed to be get in the way (you’ll like it a lot better then). Otherwise, if you are an insecure head in suburbia who thinks because the hood isn’t feeling this record, than you shouldn’t either, step aside. Or, if you are an insecure kid in the hood who thinks because suburbia likes this record, you shouldn’t either, step aside. See, hip-hop can’t afford you no more. Because you know what? Kool Keith in a Budweiser hat, Chuck D rebuking crack, and De La Soul’s daisies weren’t accepted by the general audience either (but what do they know?!?). But, if you are a young fan that doesn’t give a fuck what anyone else thinks of what you like, Madvillain is for you. If you are an aging head that loved hip-hop in its early days, but hates it today, Madvillain is for you. This is it friends, the first classic LP of 2004.
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