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Madvillain - Madvillainy

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Artist: Madvillain

Album: Madvillainy

Label: Stones Throw

Review date: Feb. 17, 2004

“As luck would have it, one of America’s two most powerful villain’s of the past decade is turned loose to strike terror in the hearts of men.” So goes the first twenty seconds of Madvillainy, one of the most anticipated rap releases in past years. The duo – consisting of producer Madlib and rhymesayer MF Doom – began work on Madvillain over two years ago, and in the midst of demo work, tracks eventually wound up being leaked on the internet. Because of this, the two decided to sit on the recordings and focus on other work; Madlib with the re-working of Blue Note tapes on Shades of Blue and his reggae-mega-mix for Trojan records Blunted In The Bombshelter, while Doom stepped up with two fantastic albums last year – King Geedorah’s Take Me To Your Leader and Viktor Vaughn’s Vaudeville Vaudevillian – resulting in both artists earning accolades from press and street alike.

An accordion vamp so sad it would stop Amelie from dipping her hands in grain opens the appropriately titled “Accordion,” along with a barely-there 808 bounce. Doom steps up with his own braggadocio that few can handle: “When he at the mic you don’t go next / leaving pussycats like wild hoes need Kotex / Exercise index won’t need boflex / won’t take no woman with skinny legs like Joe Tex.” This is an interesting arena for Doom; he’s always been at his best telling stories of social unrest, and unrequited love while keeping a steady balance of battle rhymes in his back pocket. It seems here he’s solely focused on battling. Whether bragging about “being nominated for the best rolled L’s” on “America’s Most Blunted,” or when he’s rolling with a deep-rooted jazz loop’Lib probably found at the Jazz Record Mart on “Raid” (“On one scary night I saw the light / heard a voice like Barry White say ‘Sho you right.’ / Don‘t let me find out who try to bite / they better off goin’ to fly a kite in a fire fight). For a man that went underground for eight years only to return with five albums, a slew of singles and four more full-lengths planned for ’04, Doom is quickly becoming the Jandek of the hip-hop world.

You know, Big Daddy Kane can get out of the limo in a fur coat, clutching a goblet and a mic, but can he still pull off something as infectious as “Ain’t No Half-Steppin?” Or is he just living in the past? Or is it that Doom is just hungry, looking to exact retribution from a past full of shoddy record contracts and a dead brother? The most logical conclusion: dude was probably in his basement for eight years, and it just boiled over. The players might have changed, but the scenery was still the same. Name me one other MC that has done what Doom has done in two years, sans failure, without the aid of MTV, Clear Channel, or Pharrel.

Speaking of producers, I know that Madlib was getting love for his Yesterday’s New Quintet, Shades of Blue and his work with Dudley Perkins, but hip hop heads really just wanted another Lootpack or Quasimoto album (hints of another Quas record pop up here on the rollicking Sun Ra tribute “Shades Of Tomorrow”), and while said heads were quick to criticize, maybe it was best for Madlib to get down with his jazz roots; it’s only made his rap production sharper and stranger. When “Paul’s Boutique” came out, Eric B – knowing how deep that album was steeped in esoteric samples – wanted to stop producing because he said he could never reach that level of genius; and while I doubt anyone will hang their hat after this, its going to be a challenge to top it. Not so much in how deep the references are (obvious James Brown samples shape shifted in ways unheard of, along with touches of black rock, tango music, calypso to arrangements that would make Charles Stepney and Teo Macreo smile), but in the length of the track. With 17 (four of those without verses) of the 22 tracks barely going over 2 ½ minutes, this is like a “Land Speed Record” for uprockers. And while every Ivy League dog kennel worker with a paycheck from Blender or Revolver may write dissertations about how Outkast re-invented pop music (and if we follow that logic) then Madvilian simply destroys the boundaries. This isn’t iced out and flashy, with a revolving door of guest MCs and producers; this is two men who know the love of the game and want to change the rules. Some heads might react to this like Downbeat did to Jack Johnson, or they (the more ignorant, context-over-content types) might call it “punk by punks,” but if this is truly hip hop, then the album is an errata-slip-on-tape of the past ten years of rap, and how we (as rap fans) lost our ways.

By Stephen Sowley

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