Review Summary: Too real for y'all?
Gangster rappers usually try to display themselves as the sickest villains. B.I.G. and Tupac painted images of ruthless enemies of societies, with slight hints of consciousness that truly makes them human, making their villainy all the more real. Their formula is imitable, and many of these workmen of the industry do imitate, but only the villainous, and not the thoughtful conscious nature that made these two men human. Their boasts are intangible; it’s hard to really feel any of it. Madvillain, a rap duo consisting of wordy MC MF Doom and at-the-time Peanut Butter Wolf protégé Madlib, rather than use this surreal gangster ruthlessness OR the blunt reality behind it, rely much more on the words and music to create a villainous work of art. Madvillainy
is probably the realest display of a villain, but more of the sense of a superhero villain than a villain in the sense of human light, but MF Doom still manages to display some human features, and that’s one of the reasons why Madvillainy
is one of my favorite records, and one of the most notable underground records released.
shows its true virtuosity in its structure. Rather than stretched over verses and five minute songs that would feel better as two minutes, Madlib as a producer cuts out all the fat, with the longest song barely running near four minutes, while the shortest barely closing in around a minute. Together, this record packs a lot of material into very little, making it a very broad experience without abusing the time of the listener. Wrapped in the structure, there are short instrumentals that fill in time as interludes, but don’t feel like absurd wastes of time. “Sickfit” utilizes a apocalyptic, ravenous keyboard loop, with thudding bass, militant drums, and little ‘wahs’ of synths bleeding into building sound. “Bistro” and “Rainbows” give smooth, jazzy backdrops for DOOM to do his non-rap thing, whether it is to introduce the album on the former, or to sloppily sing in a tone deaf, 50s way on the later. The Arabic waddle of “Do Not Fire!” and the sprawling theme song of “Supervillain” are the best of these interludes, allowing Madlib his chance to shine without DOOM’s meddling hands getting into the mix.
While Madlib does get his shine on these short snippet interludes and Lord Quas’ solo track, DOOM gets his work on over the course of the record. Before this, there was a certain one dimensionality about DOOM that I couldn’t get past. Operation Doomsday
, as good as it was, sounded amateurish comparatively to his work here. DOOM starts the album at his best lyrical moment, on the minimalist “Accordian”, where he spits his absolute best verses over the song title (“Got more lyrics than the church got ‘Ooh Lords’/ and he hold the mic and your attention like two swords/ or even one with two blades on it/ Hey you! Don’t touch the mic like there’s aids on it.”). DOOM still carries his mush mouthed, intertwining delivery and tongue twisting lyrics, but the difference here is that he does it with the most heart he’s ever had. “Fancy Clown” is an inside battle between himself, the Villain vs. DOOM (“But have it your way, raw no foreplay/That's you if you want a dude who wear a mask all day”), and it’s odd how passionate he sounds. While technically proficient, DOOM, or better yet, the Madvillain has never sounded this good before, with the mixing of one of the most proficient flows in rap with a spice of reality and passion, it’s quite beautiful really.
As they always say, a great rapper is only defined by how good his beats are. While earlier DOOM had an assortment of great beats, these funk boogies and sample-fests were just like his rapping, proficient, but knowingly soulless. Madlib’s production throughout the record is cinematic, lo fi, and surreal. A lot of what Madlib does is simple minimalism that works perfectly. “Great Day” takes use of a wandering jazz piano line and runs with it, as DOOM raps over jazz perfection that would put Guru’s Jazzmatazz
series to utter shame, while “Accordian” takes use of loud bass, popping drums, and, this one’s a shocker, an accordion. Along with this minimalism, Madlib creates wondrous soundscapes reminiscent of the first Lord Quas effort, but on weed instead of mushrooms. This is proved by the grooving, creamy bass often incorporated in the record, giving DOOM a slick rhythm section to bolster his rhymes over. The best beats, however, are where Madlib gets to show off his own props in his own crazy ways. “Money Folder” is characterized by sweet jazz interludes in-between thundering drums and whispering keys, “Shadows of Tomorrow” moves in consistent motion, creating dreamy vibes and feels like an interlude between the grooviness and instead creates a trippy, shroom-influenced environment. The album's best track; however, is the tambourine led darkness of “Figaro”, is one of the albums simplest tracks, and yet feels complicated in its timing.
Madlib and DOOM’s genius here is astounding, however, it isn’t unfaultable. There are moments where the filler gets overbearing, which is mostly on Madlib’s part. “Hardcore Hustle” is easily the albums worst track, using a warring horn track that would sound home on any other
Madlib-produced album, while M.E.D. sounds just like your average weed carrier. “Eye” sounds hollow, with Stacy Epps echo-ing voice seeping into the track, creating what seems like an utter mess. “Operation Lifesaver”, however, is the fault of DOOM, who salivates all over a decent Madlib track, and breaks it up with slurry talk of women. These tracks, despite their faultiness, don’t really create much of a noticeable impression on the listener, and are truly forgettable and short, making them seem inconsequential to the listeners enjoyment of the record.
That’s why the forty six minutes of Madvillainy
is some of the best rap music ever. Any filler that ever appears over the course of that time is easily forgettable, and even those are good in any other sense. From the beginning monologue in “The Illest Villains” to the ending monologue closing out the showman-like “Rhinestone Cowboy”, Madvillainy
is the height of the career of two of hip hops greatest. After this record, both of these artists would be looked at in a completely different light than they were before. Madlib, years after this release, is considered one of the greatest producers out there, constantly relied on, and praised for almost every beat he pushes out there. MF DOOM, although fairly recently starting to falling off of his crown, reached new levels of popularity for an underground rapper, selling a decent amount of units and still writing humorously ridiculous rhymes. And the duo that created it? For years, we’ve been waiting for a sequel to this debut album. I guess it’s just too real to re-create in the studio.