Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Madvillain - 2004 - Madvillainy

Madvillain is MF DOOM and Madlib.

"In November 2002, Otis Jackson, Jr. (aka Madlib) went south to Brazil on business. For the trip, he compiled two mix CDs of beats and unfinished tracks: one stored his collaborations with Detroit's Jay Dee; the second held work with Brooklyn's Daniel Dumile (aka MF Doom). As a true testament to both fidelity's fragility and the power of file-sharing, both discs leaked a few months later, giving birth to a logical buzz, but more importantly, heightening expectations to impossible heights; these demos were pretty fucking tight. If "Peeyano Keys" and "Powerball #5" were just rough drafts, what could be expected of the completed project?

Undoubtedly, Madlib and Doom felt the pressure. The leak seemed to be a huge kick in the ass, especially for Madlib, who in the past few years has been garnering the reputation of being brilliant and prolific, but distracted: His Blunted in the Bomb Shelter mix (rumored to have been concocted in less than a day), Blue Note-sampling Shades of Blue, and even the Jaylib collaboration are fresh, but sloppy and often unfocused. Madvillainy is anything but: The samples are smart and never played-out, and the production and rhymes reveal a determined sense of cooperation, as Doom spouts off his most brilliant lyrical change-ups and production-conscious playoffs.

One of the noticeable differences between the unauthorized promo and the final burn of the album is a change in vocal tone from Doom, which has shifting from an excited, measured performance to a slower, scratchier and ultimately better-suited delivery, considering Madlib's low-key, bass-oriented production. Some people take the new chilled delivery as somehow inferior to the old incarnation, but taken in context, the album benefits from the re-recording, particularly in cases were Doom re-arranges couplets to optimize his punchlines ("Meat Grinder") or adds new lines altogether ("Figaro").

Doom's acknowledgement of Madlib's accordion sample (the same one Daedelus used on 2002's Invention) is the most obvious instance of Madvillainy's lyrics/production integrity, but the album is chock full of them. For a collaboration which the duo has described as something "like a telepathy thing. There wasn't a lot of talking," Madlib and Doom, proponents of two distinctive hip-hop styles, are of one unusually strong mind.

The axis of Madvillainy is Otis Jackson Jr.'s production. While Doom's entire career has been shadowed by consistently strong production efforts, never has such chemistry developed between him and another beatmaker. From the unbelievable Castlevania-meets-Rocky & Bullwinkle piano chase music of "Supervillain Theme" to the shifting keyboard jazz suite of "Great Day" to the dark chamber bass, timbales and jump-cut ukulele plucks of "Meat Grinder", Madlib proves himself as much more than just a loop digger, topping his best work on Quasimoto's The Unseen with an album of consistently incredible beat work. And it isn't just the beats that make the partnership work so well: The character of his vocal samples and the smoothness of his song-to-song segues make this album individual to the styles of both artists-- a difference that puts this pairing far ahead of similarly talented teams like Rjd2 and Blueprint's Soul Position.

Both Doom's and Madlib's myriad aliases make sparkling cameo appearances on Madvillainy, most notably on "America's Most Blunted", in which Madlib bickers with alter-ego Quasimoto, and on "Fancy Clown", which features Dumile as Viktor Vaughn. Here, Vaughn steams on an ex-girlfriend's unfaithfulness-- but she's cheating with Metalface, another Dumile alias. It's a brilliant conceit, and perhaps makes "Fancy Clown" hip-hop's first schizophrenic self-diss track.

Okay, so maybe that's a little harsh. Although the guest appearances from the Stones Throw massive are Jackson Jr.'s take on label-based self-aggrandizement, they never disrupt the album's flow, and never say anything too stupid (Medaphoar even garners a laugh on "Raid" with, "My niggas take 'no' like Kobe"). Still, it helps that these extraneous verses are few and far between; most listeners would likely have preferred an additional Doom cut instead, or at least an appearance from Doom's Monsta Island Czars.

When much of the underground often aspires to Truth and Something Bigger, Madlib and Doom have always seemed content to be quirky through and through, lightly roasting themselves and subverting the genre itself to brilliant effect. Like in the above quote from "Great Day": The rhyme's pattern and rap's topical stereotype demands the word "bitches," yet Doom hilariously says "booze" instead. Or on "Money Folder", in which Doom starts off, "Don't mind me, I won't just rhyme lightly off of two or three Heinies," but flips beers to babes midway: "And boy was they fine, G: One black, one Spanish, one Chi-nee."

Madvillainy is inexhaustibly brilliant, with layer-upon-layer of carefully considered yet immediate hip-hop, forward-thinking but always close to its roots. Madlib and Doom are individually at their most refined here, and together, they've created one of the most exciting blockbuster alliances in the underground to date. Good luck finding a better hip-hop album this year, mainstream, undie, or otherwise." --www.pitchfork.com