Review Summary: A labyrinth of complexity and density, Stones Throw Records' finest ace their first album in stride.
Stones Throw Records are definitely one of the busiest labels in hip-hop today, despite only garnering limited commercial success. Led by the famed Peanut Butter Wolf, the label gives some more experimental acts to shine... and shine they do. They've even gone as far as to extend to releasing an album by Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of progressive rock band The Mars Volta. However, among the most notable inclusions to this label is the alternative hip-hop duo Madvillain.
The duo consists of Madlib on the beats and MF DOOM on the mic. Madlib keeps the production low-key so MF DOOM has a chance to shine with his thought provoking (maybe a little trippy) lyrics. Yet Madlib isn't a pushover in any way here; the influences he draws on are quite eye-opening. Among them are: Gentle Giant, Frank Zappa, and Sun Ra. Many of the samples and influences he uses are utilized to create even more complex rhyme-schemes and experimentation, and it shows in the music.
As I said before, the duo are about quality-over-quantity, and this is immediately proven in the theme and style of the album. The theme that's most prevalent is that of a villainous nature, describing hip-hop's "illest"/most dangerous villains (already an inspiration for DOOM's persona). A theme this unique would never be seen in a more commercial record in the genre, let alone in many other genres. Madlib cleverly places samples throughout to keep with this running concept, and each section rolls into the next seamlessly.
In many cases, this is a bit of an indie-styled rap album, with a very minimalistic style about it; The duo really like to cut to the chase here. One thing that's especially unique is the exceptionally short length of the songs, coupled with the near-complete lack of choruses. However, this also gives MF DOOM more of a chance to show off his mic skill. "Meat Grinder" and "Accordion" are great examples of this; The former uses a simple but effective beat to roll things along with DOOM's pace, and the latter actually uses an accordion sample with a minimal backing beat to give emphasis to the vocals.
MF DOOM's vocals are oddly lethargic and dry-sounding in the release (surprisingly not as much in live shows), but they work well in the toned-down old-school feel of the record. Plus, he makes up for it with an abundance of slick, complex rhymes, especially in songs like "Rhinestone Cowboy" and "Raid." Madlib, on the other hand, uses an endless of abundance of trippy rhythms and pounding beats; Also, as I said, the influences he uses are very diverse and he makes them work well with the style of hip-hop. Overall, there's a great sense of balance between the two members, and their teamwork is extraordinary here.
Unfortunately, the album loses its way a few times; 1. Some of that "lethargic" style I mentioned in the record bogs it down a little about 3/4 in, and 2. The track "Hardcore Hustle" is completely unnecessary with a tough-guy theme to it; Overall, the song really kills the pace for some of the album.
However, the rest of the album is astounding, and the fact that Madvillain have reached heights like this in modern day hip-hop is quite fascinating. A labyrinth of complexity and density, Stones Throw Records' finest ace their first album in stride.
America's Most Blunted
Shadows of Tomorrow