Released: March 23, 2004
It is easy to see why MF DOOM and Madlib’s 2004 collaboration Madvillainy isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. With only two tracks more than 3 minutes in length, no club beats and lacking the usual verse/hook structure of mainstream hip-hop songs, Madvillainy just might be the most regrettable combination of radio-unfriendliness and musical excellence ever conceived. On one hand, even the typical hip-hop fan might not truly appreciate Madvillainy right away. It’s just so different from everything else out there that it can be hard to understand how to understand it, if that makes sense. Yet, for those who are destined to appreciate this album, they will do so almost immediately. DOOM’s odd, lack of inflection gives the vocal an interesting twist while Madlib definitely brings his production A game with samples ranging from the Street Fighter video game to Steve Reich to Gentle Giant. If you consider yourself a hip-hop head and you haven’t heard this album, I’d go so far as to call this album required listening. You can thank me later.
As is the case with all music, there is a time and place for Madvillain’s special concoction. This is not an album you would play to pump up a crowd. This is not party music; this is the music you would listen to on a lazy weekend afternoon, perhaps with a cold one in hand. This is music that you can relax to. Let Madlib take you places you’ve never been while listening to DOOM provide descriptive commentary. Often in collaborations like this, one party tends to out-shine the other (rather drastically, in some cases). Perhaps one of the things that makes Madvillainy stand out is how well the two artists mesh together. Madlib really steps his game up to another level in this one – from the unorthodox opening tune from the namesake ‘Accordian’ to the anachronistic hotel lobby swing of ‘Bistro’ to the darker urgency (and Chinese sample) of ‘Shadows of Tomorrow’, Madlib demonstrates an ability to create precisely the type of sound that a track needs as well as a resourcefulness that allows him to pick out the most esoteric samples. Curiously, several of the seemingly ad-hoc sounds that appear throughout the album seem to originate from different sources on different listens – what may sound like a phone ringing on one listen through might sound like coins jingling on another. It’s an interesting effect – try listening to ‘Rainbows’ or ‘America’s Most Blunted’ and see if it’s a verifiable phenomenon. The most remarkable thing about the production in this album is how Madlib is somehow able to make the tracks transition so smoothly – yet, each track is clearly demarcated by its own unique beat and sound.
This cohesion is further enhanced by the chemistry that DOOM and Madlib share – the beat, the samples, the sounds, the lyrics sometimes combine so perfectly that one can only wonder that they were created by different people rather than one single creative mind. Take ‘Bistro’ for example, the sample contains a quote that repeats saying ‘How do you do?’ that fits the restaurant theme of the song (not just the title, but also DOOM welcoming his listeners to the album) like a glove. There is sizable group of people who would call the sound of this album ‘weird’ and by the standards of the processed, refined sounds of the rest of the industry, one would have to concur. It is very fortunate then that DOOM is able to match Madlib’s madness every step of the way, often out-doing him in terms of confusing his listeners, with rhymes so abstract that multiple listens can no longer guarantee eventual understanding. Yet, abstract, stream of consciousness lyrics are not what makes this album special. DOOM has a lyrical agility that allows him to switch punchlines and play with his audiences expectations with almost contemptuous ease. For example in ‘Great Day’ he begins with
Spit so many verses, sometimes my jaw twitches
One thing this party could use is more…
Now, at this point, the rhyme scheme would demand that he use a word that rhymes with ‘twitches’ and common sense would suggest that it is something that a party could use. The logical choice, and the one I think most other rappers would use, would be the word ‘bitches’. However, DOOM ignores this conventional wisdom and opts for ‘booze’ instead. The album is filled with such wordplay and non-sequiturs making an entertaining if challenging album to decode. Madlib contributes vocally as well, via his alter-ego Lord Quas aka Quasimoto. His contributions as Lord Quas are greatest on the track ‘America’s Most Blunted’ and bring a lighter dynamic to DOOM’s heavier rhymes.
There are a handful of real gems in this album – ‘Raid’, ‘Strange Ways’ and ‘ALL CAPS’ especially stand out. ‘Raid’ features an old-school melody, fast, nostalgic but light and breezy as well with DOOM telling the story of the namesake raid. ‘Strange Ways’ has an amazing Gentle Giants sample but twisted from its original hippie roots to sound considerably more menacing while DOOM flows immaculately about strangers and their strange ways. The best track of the lot is probably ‘ALL CAPS’ with a sound that alternates between an airy, optimistic flute and a lower-key, darker keyboard beat that perfectly matches the DOOM’s lyrics. A great deal of attention to detail went into the creation of this album and it clearly paid off in spades; the album opens immaculately with six tracks that are nothing short of breathtaking. While Madvillainy does lose a little steam just past the halfway mark, the last set of tracks ensures that the album ends on a good note, with tracks like ‘ALL CAPS’, ‘Great Day’, ‘Strange Ways’ and ‘Fancy Clown’ as contributing to a strong finish. Ultimately though, this is not an album that will ever be unanimously considered a classic but that suits its creators just fine; both emerged from the underground with the objective of making excellent music and with Madvillainy, they have accomplished just that.
|Track Title||Producer||Length||My Rating|
|The Illest Villains||MF DOOM||1:55||5|
|America’s Most Blunted||Madlib||3:54||4.75|
|Do Not Fire!||Madlib||0:53||4.25|
|Shadows of Tomorrow||Madlib||2:36||4.375|
|Operation Lifesaver AKA Mint Test||Madlib||1:30||4.375|
Nodima’s Overall Rating: 9.82/10
Overall Production Score: 9.43/10
Overall Lyrical Score: 9.42/10
Overall Enjoyment Score: 4.85/5
Overall Score: 9.48/10