It's quickly becoming an urban legend that when Daniel Dumile (AKA MF Doom) and
Otis Jackson Jr. (AKA Madlib) recorded Madvillainy, their grainy
patchwork of occasional genius, the hip-hop impresarios spoke fewer than
20 words to each other the whole time. That's almost impossible to believe,
because Doom's weed-drenched rasp and Madlib's jazzy, smash-and-grab
production are from the exact same hazy domain.
Both are men whose work can be meandering and difficult (Doom's King Geedorah project last year; Madlib's baffling Yesterday's New Quintet) or stunningly congruous (Doom's Viktor Vaughn alter ego; Madlib's recent Shades of Blue). On their cloudy collaboration there's more hit than miss, and if the two didn't chat much, their hook-less, fanboy's-wet-dream brand of hip-hop certainly does the talking for them.
Madlib is sharp enough to dig for some of the same superhero-inflected samples
that Doom has been compiling and abusing for years, so he's right at home on
tracks like the barely-sung "Rainbows." But it's the bouncy, rat-a-tat slam of "America's
Most Blunted" and "Hardcore Hustle" that gets me excited. On the Geedorah album, Take
Me to Your Leader, Dumile was sometimes too content to lie back and let his
cronies fire shots at empty soda cans sitting on a fence rail. Here, Madlib gets
him more juiced up, a sight seen rarely since Doom's debut, Doomsday.
The inspiration for that fury is well documented: Dumile's brother (and partner
in the now-legendary hip-hop crew KMD), DJ Subroc, was killed in a fatal car
crash. After his brother's death Dumile lay low for five years before re-emerging
as MF Doom and re-introducing himself as the drunken supervillain. Madlib has
resurrected the passion.
The now-you-see-it, now-you-don't brilliance of Madlib's "Fancy Clown" track
is the most soulful stuff Doom has ever had to work with, and he absolutely kills
it. Appearing here as his Viktor Vaughn alias, he rips an ex for cheating on
him with Doom (who also happens to be him). This sort of second-person personality
trickery is what separates Dumile from your typical MC. Madlib resists the urge
to cop the chipmunk soul craze and just uses a timeless, underplayed, normal
speed soul sample that howls, "You've been trippin' around/ With some fancy clown." The song is a personal high for both men.
The two are so simpatico here that the shimmering "Great Day Today" sounds just like a Doom production. The scattershot keyboards groove with Doom's tale of a shady lady. He slurs, "Mad plays the bass like the race card/ Villain on the case to break shards and leave her face scarred."
Though this is the strongest collection of performances in a while from "Metal
(Doom performs wearing a metal mask), the record's blood is pumped through the
heart of Madlib's
consistently mature, focused production.
His Blue Note remix project last year was the first step in what appears to be
a new era for an inexhaustible but occasionally wandering mind the kitschy
and oddly appealing DJ set Do Not Fire! invokes "Street Fighter 2," Vincent
Price and "Good Times" all at once. That's just the kind of funky multi-tasking
that Madlib is all about. And he has his fun, but "Fancy Clown" and "Accordion" are
major steps for a boards-brain who has yet to create his masterpiece. Doom picks
him up and Madlib returns the favor on the crystal-meth freak-out "Meat Grinder," which
switches styles so quickly it's hard to realize where one song ends and the next
If the project seems a bit slapdash at times, it's because Doom avoids choruses and most songs last less than two minutes. But Madlib has created a mood throughout that allows Doom to maintain his mysterious aura while letting him deliver some thrilling narratives. Some make no sense to anyone but him, but it's the execution, not the content, that'll keep your attention.
And the consistency and coherence of Madlib's production and those rapid-fire, often unexpected samples make for a true rap "album," something we haven't gotten in a while. The samples and loops used on many of the songs fade out smoothly. The music is crisply layered and doesn't get sloppy, unlike some of the duo's earlier work. Beats, rhymes and sounds fall into one another without tripping on the tails of their burning stars. Just like Doom and Madlib on Madvillainy.