By: Dino Ljubijankic
Let’s put on our mixtape-filled backpacks and our ear gauges, it’s time to get a little weird and a little underground. For today’s show-and-tell, we have a collaboration between three of underground hip hop’s more recognizable names entitled Bad Neighbor. This one feels a little past due, but not in a negative way. More of a, “Oh, yeah, I’ve always thought they’d make a good team,” kind of way. First up, we have MC Medaphor, more notably referred to as MED. MED is probably the least well known of the trio, not getting much fame outside of features on classic underground records like Madvillainy and The Unseen. Next we have Blu, who’s got a bit more of a respected discography, especially with his work with Exile. He also…
Okay, I’ll be honest. I didn’t come to this album for Blu and MED. I don’t care about colors or doctors, really. I wouldn’t even think to listen to this thing if it was just them two. I came to this record for one thing, and one thing only: the conductor of beats, the digger of loops, the Lord of the Quas. Madlib, one of hip hop’s most revered and abstract thinking producers of all time. Those two classic underground records I mentioned earlier, Madvillainy and The Unseen? Madlib produced both of them. Just recently, he put out Piñata with Freddie Gibbs, which, depending on the general consensus of Run The Jewels 2, is either the first or second best hip hop album of 2014. So, coming off of a home run, Madlib is back to do what Madlib does best: try different things, in the jazziest, most abstract, and most oddball ways possible.
Spoiler alert: Madlib does Madlib things. And it’s glorious.
Understandably, when Madlib was working with Freddie Gibbs, he had to tone down the weirdness to fit with Gibbs’ gangsta themes and ideas. But, with alternative hip hop artists like Blu and MED, he can do whatever he wants! And he will! He’ll make a beat entirely out of a chicken clucking sample if he wants to! By the way, that last sentence isn’t a joke. He does that on the track “Birds.” If any other producer does that, it’d be looked at as a joke, but Madlib doing it is just fantastic in the dumbest way possible.
Before we get into the production worship that’s about to take place, a couple of things to show some love for first. MED and Blu do their best to keep up with the wonky, lo-fi sounds of the record. I’m not saying they murder every single beat they appear on, but they put some effort into it. Abstract rapping can be pretty hit or miss usually. Also, Hodgy Beats brings his youthful flair to “Servings,” MF DOOM brings his slow, robotic, and tongue-twisting flow as usual on “Knock Knock,” and Anderson Paak continues to impress in 2015 with a pretty killer hook on “The Strip.” The other features don’t shine as these three, but are impressive enough to keep the songs afloat.
Okay, let’s get to the good stuff.
Madlib, being the considerate producer he is, made life easy for me. Usually, he’ll release an album with about twenty fantastic beats to choose from. For this record, he had his usual amount of great beats, but he made perhaps the song of the year in “Drive In.” The soaring sample takes flight alongside a beat that blurs the line between strings and synths. The chorus is as smooth as garlic butter, creating an uplifting tune that makes me curse the fact that it’s only four minutes long. “The Finer Things” and “Burgundy Whip,” the two songs before “Drive In,” have a bit of a similar formula. Namely, the title of the song being the words sung in the sample integrated in the beat. While “The Finer Things,” has a sort of murky yet classy feeling to it, “Burgundy Whip” is a strange brand of quirky smoothness that only Madlib can produce so well. “Belly Full” has a grimy big band feel to it, while “The Buzz” sounds like a 70’s movie soundtrack that would be played when looking out at a city from the top of a skyscraper. Songs like “Peroxide” pump up the oddball factor when it comes to the beat, a creepy-crawly melody stretching out across the track alongside aggressive, hypnotic synths. Of course, the song after it is probably the most – for lack of a better word/phrase – not-weird song on the album. “Get Money” bounces, bass and sharp boom bap making a wonderfully charismatic song about a topic that’s been beaten to death by most hip hop artists.
With Madlib, however, you have to look for the small things. For example, on “Streets,” listen to the percussion. It sounds like percussion that would be used in mid-80’s rap tracks. It sounds so basic, yet, alongside the rest of Madlib’s musical mayhem, it works. And, on a song like “The Stroll,” there’s nothing really recognizable in the beat. It’s just an awkward, electronic, dirty, yet perfectly executed mess. I came to this album looking for Madlib goodness, and I got me some prime Madlib goodness. Whoever Madlib works with next, I’ll be excited and ready to hear the next direction of the wonkiest producer in hip hop.