The Legendary Madlib

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By Jason Arline
Music Journalist

In today’s music industry, producers are just as, if not more, influential as the artists who sing on their songs. Prior to the internet and social media, producers were mainly a part of their labels and weren’t the star attraction. Nowadays, producers headline tours and co-create on projects independently more often than in the past.

Producers like DJ Khaled, Kaytranada, Kenny Beats and Zaytoven all have made names for themselves as stand-alone attractions and content creators. Among the producers who are a part of the industry, few are as seasoned as producer Madlib. 

While Madlib has produced his own solo projects, some under the name Quasimoto, he shines most on his one on one collaborations. Co-creator of albums Champion Sound, Madvillainy, Piñata and Bandana, Madlib has produced 24 studio albums and 7 EPs over a 27-year career. His use of samples pulled from a diverse selection of music makes his beats serviceable to a wide range of rappers.

“I listen to all types of different things and try to find something good in every genre,” Madlib said during his public lecture in 2016 as a part of the Red Bull Music Academy. From abstract poetry like MF DOOM to gangster rap like Freddie Gibbs, if you have some sort of bars Madlib has a beat for you. His love of music regardless of genre makes him flexible as a musician and well respected by his peers.

Madlib’s first iconic collaboration with J Dilla as Jaylib was a special. J Dilla revolutionized sampling to the point that his drum machine is now in a museum. The meeting between the two producers was like the reunion of long lost brothers. It’s well known that while Dilla was alive they were good friends and often spent time in the studio together, but as artists, they seemed more than friends and at times the same person.

Champion Sound shows just how alike the two were. With half the album being Dilla beats and the other Madlib’s the lack of contrast between beats is astonishing. As a body of work Champion Sound sounds like it was made by one producer. The beats heavy use of samples give it that classic hip hop feel and between the two producers that feeling was never lost.

Another one of Madlib’s collaborative albums Madvillainy which was co-created by MF DOOM. The album was released in 2004 after an unfinished demo was leaked a year prior. Despite the leak, Madvillainy received rave reviews and was regarded both artists best work at the time. The album itself inspired the current generation of rappers like Tyler, the Creator and Joey Bada$$. Madvillainy is regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time and has aged well over the years.

A more recent addition to Madlib’s legendary discography is the album Bandanna which was made with rapper Freddie Gibbs. Bandana is seen as both Madlib and Gibbs’ exclamation point on an appeal to mainstream hip hop fans that started with their first collaboration Piñata. The combination of Gibbs gangster rap and Madlib’s production raised eyebrows at first but once you listen to the projects you see how well the contrast works from song to song.

In “Half Manne Half Cocaine,” Gibbs talks about how even though you sell drugs you’re still part of a messed up system you may not escape. The contradiction of freedom and servitude plays a role in the song and lyrics as the beat changes half-way through to a more unorthodox structure similar to a drug high. Bandana on paper seems like an odd collaboration but once you listen to the way that Gibbs raps over Madlib’s beats you come to the conclusion that Bandana is real hip hop at its core: it’s one producer, one rapper, and some old records that come together to make good music.

At 46, Madlib has already accomplished so much in his 27-year career as a producer. With his talents, he solidified himself as a producer that can make beats for any artist. His sampling makes his songs unique and refreshing to hear in an industry with a lot of mimicry. Whenever Madlib collaborates on a project the music that is made always innovates and amazes. While sampling dates back to the beginning of hip hop, Madlib continues to perfect and innovate the technique. Madlib’s skill, discography, love of music and humility truly make him a legendary producer.

Featured image by Jason Arline.

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