Madvillainy - 10 year anniversary
Tripping off the beat kinda, dripping off the meat grinder
Heat niner, pimping, stripping, soft sweet minor
China was a neat signer, trouble with the script
Digits double dipped, bubble lipped, subtle lisp midget
When I was 14, I used to watch MTV and scribble down the names of songs I liked, then rush to my room and spend the next three days waiting for Limewire to download them. My musical education consisted of a steady diet of Placebo, Ja Rule, Jay-Z and Eminem. My mum stole my copy of The Eminem Show, in a scene straight out of the playbook, and hid it. I never found it again.
You could've broke it off and ended it and dip
And if you spoke soft we could've still preserved the friendship
Now you apologize, that's what they all say
You wasn't sorry when you sucked him off in the hallway
I have no idea how I came across Madvillain. I remember being teased incessantly because i used to scribe Jay-Z lyrics all over my textbooks at school, and as a tall, scrawny, pimply faced white boy going to a selective school in Western Sydney, I was certainly in a pretty exclusive minority with my penchant for gangster rap. Once I'd worn my copy of Blueprint 2 down to it's basal elements, I consulted the internet for advice. Mainstream hip hop was fine, it was all I knew, but surely there was a more potent form of music out there?
I may not know how I came across Madvillain, but I remember with startling clarity, considering my later love of alcohol, exactly how it made me feel to immerse myself in MF Doom and Madlib's crazy world. The very first thing I noticed, and I am again probably in the minority here, given Doom's trademark cadence and monotonal delivery, were the samples used by Madlib, snatches of old movies that punctuated the incessant drone of Doom's lyrical acrobatics.
I must've had an early bootlegged copy, because mine differed from the final tracklist. Both Powerball #5 and Peeyano Keys appeared on my burned CD, and I never heard Raid until many years later when I tracked down a hard copy of the official release. There was nothing quite as liberating as my initial encounter. DOOM's dexterity, which was maintained despite an apparent total lack of effort, was a revelation.
Poor guys, what a sight for old, sore four-eyes
Now hook me with two apple pies and a small fries
All rise, so far art as a Rupple
So raw break it down and make quadruple
It's crucial, you could see it in his pupil
And this time when he get it he'll waste it on somethin' useful
His delivery is nothing short of astounding. To cram "far" and "art" so closely together and enunciate each letter in such a way that carried his off-hand style but ensured they wouldn't be mis heard was staggering. Jay-Z was rapping about Clearports and Armidale Vodka, DOOM was rapping about sex through one of the craziest bowling metaphors you will ever hear, I guarantee that.
What a call, what a real butterball
Either I get a strike or strike out, gutterball
In hindsight, it relegates celebrated lyricists to the scrap heap. Even Eminem's best punchlines cannot match the depth and plethora of hidden meanings that DOOM was spitting on this record. When the needle drops on Figaro, he only needs the first line to dismiss competition,
The rest is empty with no brain but the clever nerd
The best emcee with no chain ya ever heard
Even RapGenius misses every angle of this line. Discounting, only for a second, the insane internal rhymes that he manages, Rest is empty / Best emcee, no brain / no chain, clever nerd / ever heard, check the message out. The rest is empty with no brain, implying all of his competition, if you can even call it that, are fakes, unable to match him intellectually. He calls himself the clever nerd, immediately discerning himself from the pack, before adding a double meaning to the second line. No chain could refer to both his aversion to jewellry, yet another feature that distinguishes him from his contemporaries, and his apparent lack of a stable or crew, as having no chain is commonly referred to as being untethered, a free agent, and with Roc-A-Fella, G-Unit, Murder Inc and a host of other stables around at the time, it is a third way to stand out from the pack. In two lines..
For fifteen year old Ben, I was entranced. My first ever encounter with Madlib was, past the initial awe at the sampling from Frankenstein movies and works by Sun Ra, only fully revealed its true importance to me in the years that passed afterwards. Whilst fads came and went, whilst my musical tastes swerved and swayed, this record remained in my little red Barina, and the amount of money I spent on blank CDs burning new copies as I played each to their death's amassed a small fortune. Amazingly, I never actually heard the beat for Accordion until I finally got myself a hard copy of the record. This slow, almost mournful utilisation of an instrument I'd only ever read about filled the room, and by the time DOOM drops in for a verse centred around his imperious ability and apparent unquenchable thirst for chemical enhancements, the song had become one of my favourites.
The past is once upon a time
Once upon a time is past
The past is yesterday today
Madlib was regarded as somewhat of a production legend around the traps. His creative mind drew him in wildly conflicting directions, with a dalliance in jazz during the early 2000s informing his subsequent production, and allowing that laid back aspect of the genre to seep through, forcing a hazed blur of music that was at once arresting and disarming in it's chill factor. A more perfect match could not be made. DOOM's lyrical marathons needed room to breath, and Madlib was the perfect purveyor. His utilisation of samples as widely read as Frank Zappa, Miles Davis, Rass Kass and Stevie Wonder showed an attention to detail and a wide appreciation of music that few producers exhibit. America's Most Blunted is such a contrast of message and noise, with almost harsh guitars destroying the high as DOOM extols the virtues of his drug of choice in a grumble, inflicted by the nature of the beat. The insistent nature of the keys on Money Folder again prompt DOOM in to a jog when he'd rather be walking, but he's so adept he melds his voice around the siren in the middle, before a lovely little jazz interlude breaks up the monotone.
Spliff made him swore he saw heaven he was seven
Yup, you know it, growin' up too fast
Showin' up to class with Moet in a flask
He ask the teacher if he leave will he pass
The shocking thing about Madvillainy is that DOOM isn't breaching new ground, and neither is Madlib. Kanye had been forcing sample based production in to the bright lights of mainstream radio play, and rappers have been bragging about skills on the mic and weed habits for decades. The way in which these topics is undertaken, with such brilliance, immediately shone a light on just what the underground can offer us surface dwellers. Being a critical success means nothing, but becoming a cult classic that was more important to a smoking session than weed itself became everything. In the years since, neither has scaled the heights they did on this piece of musical perfection. The rap landscape changed, finally. Intelligence was highly prized. Rappers didn't have to rely on aggression to promote themselves, and all of a sudden the back pack rappers came back in vogue, as people began to realise the true brilliance of Andre 3000, Common, and Chino XL.
The mixtape scene became awash with sample-based production. Lil Waynes Dedication 2 began to utilise spoken words, and Kanye continued to kick goals. The surprising thing was that both trends that were brought in to dynamic focus through Madvillainy were short lived. Kanye now makes unlistenable industrial rap, and sample based production has taken a backseat to molly-laced EDM. DOOM's intelligent monotone was never truly copied, and it's been left to the man himself along with a handful of others to maintain this form of attack. Of course, these things could be due to the fact that they were done so well on Madvillainy that any kind of copycat would seem weak in comparison. Still, this record, now ten years old, stands as a beacon of just how listenable underground rap can be if we sit up and take notice.