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The Talented Mr. Madlib 

Hip hop sensation Otis Jackson Jr. has more personalities than albums (well, almost)

Wednesday, Jun 22 2005
I don't smoke much pot anymore. In the past year I've puffed the magic dragon maybe two or three times, and even then I've taken only a few teensy-weensy hits. The stuff makes me crazy. Immediately after inhaling I become paranoid, fearful that at any moment I'm going to freak out and jump through the closest window, or that, conversely, some coot is going to jump in through the closest window and, I dunno, cause an argument or something; if I can distract myself from those thoughts I then begin to imagine that my eyes are bright red orbs and everyone's staring at them; if I'm at a party I think all the guests are talking about me; if I'm watching television I fantasize that TV programming is part of some vast conspiracy to --

-- well, you get the idea. Gone are the nights when I'd lie on the floor, stoned as a Salem witch, listening to records by DJ Cam (Mad Blunted Jazz) or Tricky (Maxinquaye) and thinking, "Daaaammmmnnnn, this shit is genius!" Inspired, I'd spring up and flip on the four-track, lay down a beat with my Boss "Dr. Rhythm" DR-660 drum machine, throw a synth arpeggio over that, run some shit through a delay pedal, tinkle out a keyboard line, and voilà! I was a bona fide producer -- at least until I woke up the next day, played my composition, and realized it was bona fide crap. This process (repeated several times in my first few years of college) was a lot of fun but never, ever yielded anything I'd play for even my closest friends. Since then I've always been skeptical of creative pothead types for either one of two reasons: A) They make that shitty planetary love-art poop out of hemp and are too far gone to realize they were crafting more or less the same thing out of macaroni in the third grade; or B) Their paintings/music/sculptures are actually good and I'm jealous they can function in such a way while high.

Which brings us to Madlib.

"Everyone finds that they're more creative stoned than straight. All of us are latent Michelangelos or Carusos or da Vincis, and think that we can paint or sing or write, if only we tried hard enough."

This sample, delivered by a very white, very earnest voice that sounds as if it were taken off an instructional record, is from track two, "Greenery," on the Further Adventures of Lord Quas, the latest offering from this L.A.-based schizo and proud pothead, who single-handedly refutes any notion that chronic chronic-smokers are by definition loopy, lazy, or lame.

Indeed, Madlib (real name Otis Jackson Jr., son of the famed jazz bandleader) is so prolific you have to assume there's more than one of him. Turns out there is, sort of. Since 2000 he's released six full-length records as, variously, Quasimoto, his reedy-voiced MC alter ego (responsible for the above-mentioned Lord Quas, which, rather confusingly, Madlib produced); Jaylib, a collaboration with producer J-Dilla, in which he raps; Madvillain, a collaboration with MC MF Doom, in which he produces; and Yesterday's New Quintet, his hip hop/jazz band, in which he plays the role of all four members (that's Monk Hughes, Ahmad Miller, Joe McDurfey, and Malik Flowers, for those of you keeping track). This is all in addition to producing tracks for the likes of Dudley Perkins, De La Soul, Oh No, and, among many others, Blue Note Records -- the label gave him the keys to its vault and told him to go crazy for 2003's mix-masterpiece Shades of Blue. And if that's not enough, he plays Spock to hip hop mastermind Peanut Butter Wolf's Capt. Kirk over at the label Stones Throw Records.

Perhaps if Madlib's avalanche of output were merely mediocre, we could all rest a little easier, but it's not. His work is consistently some of the best hip hop out there right now.

Take Lord Quas. For starters, the record contains 25 tracks. Sure, some of them are a minute and a half long, but they're all packed with a Heinz-like variety of samples. Let's look at "Greenery" again. The samples sound sourced from old '80s arcade games but converge into a blunt, limping beat; quotes from movies dance in and out of the mix; eventually we're listening to some guy speaking in tongues or, wait, now he's singing a soul song; no, we're hearing a snippet from Dolemite or something.

Regardless of what alias Madlib's operating under, his true talent lies in his ability to make a beat out of just about any sample. A favorite of mine is "Accordion," off the Madvillain album, in which a drunken accordion sample stumbles around in a tight loop, creating the elliptical beat over which MF Doom raps lines like, "Givin' y'all nothing but the lick, like two broads/ Got more lyrics than the church got 'Ooh Lords.'"

Madlib maintains that Quasimoto is a separate entity, and cites this as the reason the MC never performs. If we're lucky, though, perhaps he'll make a rare cameo this Thursday, June 23, when Madlib, Peanut Butter Wolf, DJ J.Rocc (of the well-known Beat Junkies turntable crew), and newly minted Stones Throw talent MC M.E.D. throw down at Mighty (626-7001 or Expect a seriously fucked-up mix of blunted beats and bitchin' rhymes. If you're like me and taking a vacation from the reefer, this show could be the next best thing to falling off the wagon.

About The Author

Garrett Kamps


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