Review Summary: The sound of two champion producers is wackier than expected...!
In the hip hop world, artists love combining their aliases like kids love combining legos. This time it’s Jaylib, featuring Jay-Z
and Talib Kweli
. Or was that J Dilla
/Jay Dee and Madlib
? Yeah, that sounds right. No strangers to consummating collaborations on record, producer and occasional MC Madlib is perhaps best known outside of his solo work for teaming up with MF DOOM
, and both producers are known for creating tracks with nearly anyone willing to incorporate their signature sought after styles.
Jaylib first came to be when Madlib came across a mix of Dilla’s beats in 2000, rapped over them, eventually making its way over to Jay. But even after both became aware of the buzz of the partnering, they recorded the entire album Champion Sound
without being in the same studio, let alone city (a la The Postal Service
for those of you familiar with bad music.) Though Jay Dee passed away in 2006, his massive collection of beats continue to make waves in the hip hop world, and Champion Sound is one example of when these two innovative beat makers are let loose in the studio.
Upon a first glance, Madlib’s love of jazz and J Dilla’s soul flavouring should make for a smooth, easy grooving listen. Think again. In reality, Madlib’s jazz influence creates raw, rhythmic beats and dissonant layering, making Dilla’s more streamlined sound a unique contrast. Whereas Madlib’s work on Madvillainy
meant a uniform sound of odd old school beats, here the combination of the two without touching each other’s beat makes a much more ragged listen. That may sound like trouble, but the very mayhem that they play off of makes the album’s uniquely choppy atmosphere. The single The Red
has the most instantly accessible beat, featuring a female vocal sample and fuzzy bassline to soulfully carry the song, automatically recognizable as a Dilla instrumental, and is one of the few beats on here that “plays it safe” and stays relatively conventional compared to most of the other songs.
But where the beats stay conservative, the rapping stays bizarre. Primarily being producers, Jaylib’s rapping skills are unrefined and awkward, adding to the jolted feel of Champion Sound. Madlib is unanimously the better MC, though having an incoherent stop-start flow, his rambling lyrics sometimes work surprisingly well with the song. His alter-ego Quasimoto
also “appears” a few times, which is just Lib with a high pitched voice, sometimes switching between the two voices rapidly in the same song, putting a trippy spin on the term “pass the mic.” Strip Club
features the two personas venturing into a strip club to a slick flute driven Dilla beat, telling a disjointed story of a booty call night, eventually ending with Quas realizing something strange about the stripper: “oh shit
that’s my nigga’s wife!” and inexplicably, “yo open the door... oh wait it’s open.”
While Madlib’s mic skills can be considered an acquired taste, Jay Dee simply doesn’t deliver. He sort of just babbles mildly to the beat, and doesn’t ever say anything to be taken seriously, but of course the songs still end up listenable because of the masterful production. The guest rappers help out the vocally challenged duo and up the anti quite a lot, with Guilty Simpson delivering the best rhymes on the album over what sounds like a G-Unit
beat on crystal meth. Surprisingly, Talib Kweli
’s appearance on the album is as dull as Dilla’s rapping, leaving the lesser known rappers to make up for it.
Though Champion Sound is literally all over the place, the twosome’s love of crate digging and obscure instrumentation keeps the album together. The chemistry the songs have with each other, and the chemistry inside each song truly showcases the boys’ talents for amalgamating, sometimes making a smooth beat out of an unlikely layering (the Indian instrumentation on Survival Test
, the bouncy horns on Pillz
, the playful basslines all over the album,) and sometimes literally disorienting the listener with out of sync arrangements and scratching the hell out of a record. Champion Sound challenges its flow a lot, and it actually does hiccup and stop completely, such as Heavy
’s minimal uphill flow which feels too out of place with the upbeat, richly textured beats on the rest of the record. The random snippets of unrelated J Dilla beats at the end of many of the songs sometime feel like silky intermissions for the songs, or just make me wish they were longer.
One skit on the album advertising “Marijuana Helper” (just add it in when there isn’t enough ganja to go around!) cements what we were all thinking – Jaylib were baked as hell making this album. And while one doesn’t need a fat blunt to enjoy this album, both producers have made better, well-rounded albums, making this feel disappointing, especially when it’s realized they’re no Rakim on the mic. If anything, the instrumental version of the album would be a better listen, or to start with if one is new to the two beat monkeys. Either way, Champion Sound gives everyone a quirky angle to view the two underground favourites.