Until he released the landmark experimental hip hop LP, The Unseen (using the alias Quasimodo) Madlib was one of the most unknown soldiers in the west coast hip-hop community. Though he had been making noisy beats since the early nineties with his group Lootpack, the scrawny MC-at-heart would not reach the slightest amount of fame until he found a voice altering device teamed up with a fictional pot smoking hunchback. All his tunes are recorded at about an octave above his normal voice, many times giving a very disturbing child-like impression. Madlib’s beats are spot on, with a very heavy drum mix and distorted samples and auxiliary percussion. Years later his Prince Paul-esque production would be seen backing people like De La Soul and MF DOOM, but for now he had the center stage. The underground had its ears open as a soon to be hip hop hero was pushed through the wombs of debut album hood. Even if he is still a bit covered in vaginal fluids, Quasimodo most certainly delivers on the Unseen.
From the first real track Quasimodo shows himself as a “Bad Character” obsessed with sex, a drug dealer, criminal and a murderer. This of course seems weird coming from a man with a voice almost identical to Mickey Mouse. Through out the album Quas talks a lot about something he calls “Astro Travelin’” or driving a car while high on a very potent (Hydro, if you will) weed. Through out the album the music, more specifically the changing of tracks, gives a feeling of riding in a car from place to place and talking to some interesting characters. Throughout the trip Quas describes his life, how his father was a cop-killer, his ability to destroy others with his 1-2s and why people should use their powers for good. Good Morning Sunshine gives off the feeling of a very lazy morning wake-up call complete with the sounds of children playing and cracklin’ beats with jug blowing under tones. A strange man repeats the phrase “good morning sunshine” while Quasimodo lays down a few sublime lines about the night before. The undisputed hit of the record would have to lie in the slightly g-funk sampledelic beats of Low Class Conspiracy. The car drives down the roads of the red light district on the way to a party and possibly a crime. Madlib and the Quas finish a blunt and begin some of the best rhymes on the whole album.
And then there is Come on Feet. Come on Feet is a slightly paranoid, 2 minute long bit of brilliance set to a slightly arrhythmic beat full of samples, dark, dreary hooks and disturbing lyrics. The story presents a few young men (Quasimodo and Madlib) running away from the cops and/or enemies and praying to their feet that they will not give out on them. The song is a sad as it is bangin’, full of creative lyrics and ghostly noises. This is perhaps the best song on the album, by this point anyone who denies Madlib’s production must be daft. He recalls many a great producer, while making his own brand of beautifully under produced madness original. Unfortunately the addition of the Quasimodo character is almost essential as Madlib’s original voice is very deep and non-tonal. His slow rhymes seem to work better through the voice box as he loses every bit of innocence on tracks like MHB’s (or Money Hungry Bitches) versus Quasimodo’s just-as-bad content rhymes on a song called Bad Character. Anyone who denies the importance of vocals in rap should hear this. Innocence is what gives Quas his likeability, even in a torture jam like Put a Curse on You or a money worshipping song like Green Power. Even the most Mafioso characters should have a strange magnetism; Madlib realizes this accusation with his whiny voiced friend. The Lord Quas has a strange magnetism to him; the album makes him seem like a good friend by the time it’s over. This is what makes some of the lyrics work so freaking well.
Through out the album Quasimoto brings up many interesting topics laced between the domestic qualities of the life of a stoned messenger of the beat. The previously mentioned Green Power is a song about the power of money over everything. Everything comes back to money Quas muses, and every word he says is true. While Madlib is no Nas he is a street poet in every right. His lyrics are beautifully disturbing and the beats, while often hazy and partially destroyed, are some of the best concocted in the modern decade. Even songs as underproduced as Astro Travelin’ are a breath of fresh air. It takes a big man to leave one of his masterpieces with such a skimpy beat. Overall the album is an awesome feat of modern rap, as well as a look into the past/future and an urban story book of domestic proportions. The style is drugged and sloppy and the edge is purely hilarious. One of my favorite rap records of all time.