Most fans of that ruff, rugged and raw hip-hop that would scare MTV and radio programmers should be well aware of the greatness of Otis Jackson, Jr., or Madlib as he's most commonly referred to in these circles. Few other artists, producers, instrumentalists or whatever even comes close to Madlib's insane work ethics and output during a lifetime, but Mr. Lib has more or less dedicated his entire life to music - listening to it, sampling it, remixing it, and playing it. His output as both a producer and as a mixtape DJ Jackson Jr.'s output is so varied that one can get a decent music education just by immersing yourself in to the vastness of his catalouge. You need lots of time, an open mind, and a broad music taste and a warped sense of humor to really dig a large chunk of his catalouge. While I have loved 'Lib's stuff since the first time I heard him, it wasn't until the last year or two that I truly immersed myself into his discography real heavily - somewhat of a side effect of being a full-time job seeker. With this post I wanted to put the spotlight on a bunch of incredible Madlib releases in hopes that it can work as a guide for newcomers to Madlib's music that just don't know where to start... So let's get it on, shall we?
QUASIMOTO - "Further Adventures Of Lord Quas" (2005)
While 1999's "The Unseen" are generally the Quasimoto album that comes up when discussing Madlib's best output, to me the 2005 follow-up "Further Adventures Of Lord Quas" combines the same type of raw jazz and funk sample material, neckbreaking beats and the helium infused vocals of 'Lib's wicked alter ego Lord Quas that made the debut such an original and joyous event. But "Further Adventures..." ups the ante a whole lot by being way more free form than anything Madlib had attempted up to this point. The album plays out like watching some weird '70s blaxploatation movie while listening to a Madlib beat tape on acid. There's not much solid songs in the usual sense to hold onto here - the dopest beat will appear long enough for a Lord Quas verse only to fade out into vocal samples from movies of decades past. While such a format might be too jarring for some, it can be extremely rewarding if you're willing to go along for the ride. Hip hop is one music form that really needs someone that dares to push its boundaries, playing with its form and what is acceptable, so let's hope Madlib continues banging out albums as strange as this.
SOUND DIRECTIONS - "Funky Sides Of Life" (2005)
As a jazz fan I always liked the fact that Madlib holds the genre sacred and releases his own LP:s within it, thus putting on people to the wonderful world of jazz. However I could never truly get into his albums as Yesterdays New Quintet and the likes. They are far from being bad music but compared to the true greats of the genre they could never hold my attention as a listener. Sound Directions is a different case however. The big difference here is that Jackson Jr. works more as an arranger and producer than neccesarily playing and overdubbing every single instrument by himself. Sound Directions specializes in the fusion field of jazz, meaning that it's improvisational music played with electric instruments over a funk beat. As such the music of Sound Direction is closer to the instrumental hip-hop music on the Beat Konducta projects, which is further exemplified by the choice of material the group plays on their debut album "The Funky Side Of Life". The majority of the 11 tracks covered on the LP are '60s and '70s compositions that have become staples in hip-hop sampling, such as David Axelrod's "A Divine Light". The heavily groove based music is constantly funky and Madlib brings a beat aesthetic to the arrangements which makes this the perfect middle ground between his jazz and hip hop projects. Could possibly be the most overlooked album in Jackson's entire ouvre - whether you like Yesterdays New Quintet or not, seek this one out!
The first installment of "Medicine Show" was somewhere in between a remix album and a mixtape. Madlib and Detroit's grim voiced Guilty Simpson had since long announced a collaborative project called "OJ Simpson" and "Before The Verdict" served as the appetizer before the main course. The majority of the 17 tracks found here are remixes of songs from 2008:s "Ode to the Ghetto" but if one were to go into this without prior knowledge of its background it almost does play out like a properly constructed album. It's interesting to know that these two went into the "OJ Simpson" collaboration with the plans to record an alternative version of the "Ode..." album, in essence a remix project with a few new tracks added on. Most of the verses were re-recorded by Guilty over new Madlib beats, giving the songs a much sharper vibe than your usual remix album. The beats 'Lib tailors to Guilty's hard-as-nails voice and hardcore street lyrics are some of the dirtiest of his entire career. Murky bass lines takes center stage while muddled guitar and keyboard riffs are burried in the mix, creating imagery of menacing streets where the violence is never far away. One thing I did notice about this album is that is by no means headphones music, you need to really blast this shit out loud through some good speakers to get the desired effect.
DECLAIME - "IllMindMuzik" EP (1999)
Along with Madlib and his younger brother Oh No and producer Kan Kick, Dudey Perkins is one of the original peeps around the Lootpack and Crate Diggas Palace. I always found Perkins to be a very interesting character as it was evident early on that he was on a different vibe than the other members of his crew. Perkins was more on the spiritual tip, preaching the power of nature and the herb as a medicine and packing his music with uplifting messages. Is also one of Madlib's main collaborators, having released two very funky albums of Soul singing under his own name, but it was his powerful "IllMindMuzik" EP that first made heads take notice. Released as his rapping alter-ego Declaime this 25 minutes short album shows the peak of Madlib's early style which was somewhat more grounded than it would become, yet his dusty chops and fusion of a wider range of musical styles than most producers had already established a trademark sound. With additional sonic input from Kutmasta Kurt and vocal support by Dilated Peoples and Lootpack this is one of the most interesting yet little known early Madlib releases.
STAY TUNED FOR PART 2