Label: Stone’s Throw
Rating: 9 / 10
Reviewer: DJ MF
I bought this album basically the day it came out, and it’s only now that I feel comfortable writing a review about it. Why is that? Well, “Madvillainy” is a unique album that truly fits the cliche of ‘you’ll eventually get it if you listen to it enough’, and having been the lone negative initial reviewer in my group of friends who all loved this LP, I thought I owed it the opportunity to impress me.
So what/who is Madvillain? Apart from being a really cool name for a musical act, Madvillain is the pairing of two of hip hop’s most underrated producers/MCs (how underrated is debatable, since everyone loves them)- MF Doom (formerly Zev Love X of KMD) and Madlib (aka Quasimoto in his sped up MC form). It’s an interesting pairing. Doom is usually all about obscure comic references, hazy beatmaking, and you can definitely hear a lot of Kool Keith and Ghostface in his stream of consciousness lyricism. Madlib? More of a traditional jazz loop based producer, and in MC form, fairly straightforward.
So what does the combination achieve? Well, like the title of the review would suggest, something that is much much greater than the sum of it’s parts. I believe my initial dismay at this LP had much more to do with HOW I listened to it, rather than the actual content. See, in order to fully appreciate “Madvillainy”, you must listen to it in sequence – and I’d go so far as to say, end to end in a sitting. Such an opportunity arose this week when I forgot my iPod at home, and only had the CD to listen to in my car – it was Madvillain for 3 straight days – and eventual enlightenment.
One of the most interesting aspects of this LP is how seamless the integration of the two artists is- the production seems tailor made for MF Doom, with lots of scratchy interludes, weird vocal samples, and ragged drums. In fact, if it wasn’t for the inclusion of Quasimoto (Madlib) on a few tracks, you’d think this was a followup to “Operation Doomsday”. Standout tracks like ‘Accordion’ with it’s peaceful sounding, well, accordion, and ‘Strange Ways’ with it’s sped up vocal sample lend a dreamlike soundscape to the proceedings, with Doom’s trademark monotone ragged delivery providing a perfect addition to the tracks, especially the politically charged lyrics of the latter –
“What’s the difference?
All you get is lost children
While the bosses sit up behind the desk and cost billions
To blast humans in half, and to capture arms
Only one side is allowed to have bombs
That’s like making a soldier drop his weapons
And telling him to get stepping
Obviously, they came to portion up his fortune
Sounds to me, like that old robbery extortion
You can’t reform him”
Elsewhere on the LP, more traditional Madlib styled beats do exist, like on ‘Fancy Clown’, which features Viktor Vaughn (who is actually MF Doom as his alter ego guesting on his own album), and the astounding single, ‘All Caps’ with it’s scale bending flute section.
Of course, very few albums are ALL good, and “Madvillainy” is no exception. Things bog down when they get a little too experimental for their own good, like on the too sloppy ‘Rainbows’ and the overly repetitive ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’. It really IS such a fine line however, that I can imagine myself liking the tracks I don’t like 6 months down the line.
Like I stated earlier however, the true genius of the LP shines through when you listen to the entire thing together. Most of the tracks on ‘Madvillainy’ clock in at under 2 minutes. Someone I know said it was like 22 movements of a symphony, with each movement adding something different to the overall feel of the LP, and I can’t say I disagree. What’s interesting is that the shortness of each track is the Achilles heel and the overwhelming strength of the entire LP. If there’s a track you don’t like, it ends quickly, and even then, usually includes at least one interesting element as to not make it a complete throwaway. If there’s a track you do like, it ends quickly, leaving you wanting more. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, surprisingly enough.
Is “Madvillainy” the insta-classic it’s been touted? I don’t think I’d go that far, but it most definitely is one of the top albums of 2004, and with time, may reach that pinnacle. Pick this up. And listen to it. Repeatedly.