Madvillain – Madvillainy


Following Madlib’s disappointing Jaylib release, the future of Madlib collaborations looked rather dim. Madlib is a prolific artist, to say the least, but he seems to rush his works on before he’s really thought them through. There was only one thing that could offer instant salvation, a quick fix, a 180-degree turn in one album: a hot, brilliant MC. And, in all honesty, there is probably none so hot and brilliant as NYC rapper MF Doom. This album is Doom’s sequel to the last two albums he’s released, King Geedorah and Vaudeville Villain, both incredible discs. So would a struggling producer and an MC in the prime of his career meet somewhere in mediocrity, or would the MC elevate the producer’s game to once-realized heights?
That’s the question a couple thousand hungry hip-hop fans have been asking themselves ever since the collaboration was announced. In the months before Madvilliany‘s release, anticipation was at a fever pitch. With all the talk surrounding the album, Doom and Madlib were going to have to release a flawless album to keep up. So did they? Well, no. Madvillainy is far from perfect. But wait, before you turn your head in disappointment and put away your hard-earned cash, let me announce that it is a fantastic disc.
The pair starts out with the obligatory super-hero-themed intro piece. The topic: villains. Following the intro is “Accordion,” a trippy, accordion-themed dirge of a rap song. Immediately noticeable is Doom’s altered delivery: he’s slowed things up and lost some of his trademark grit and spit to better fit Madlib’s beats. The delivery is inferior to his work as Viktor Vaughn when held in direct comparison, but in the context of Madvillainy itself, it works quite well.
“Meat Grinder” is a perfect microcosm for the rest of the album: a quirky intro occupies the first 20 seconds of the track, then a notably short but fantastic beat kicks in: here, a thick, rolling bass with hand drums. The whole thing lasts only two minutes, but its brevity serves it well; the song continues for just as long as the beat sounds fresh and then promptly retires. It’s frustrating when beats are as good as those on Madvillainy run so short, but if nothing else, it keeps the listener coming back.
Other standouts include “Raid,” a bouncing, piano-led tune about firearms. “Curls” is a silly, melancholy short song featuring guitars, xylophones, and cheesy keys. “Money Folder” is an old-fashioned drum-n-bass romp. “Strange Ways” features a dramatic, apocalyptic doomsday beat and a cynical, pensive Doom. The production is coherent, and nearly every track is a standout. Unfortunately, a few tracks are stuck in between the full songs which don’t really need to be there. For example, “Do Not Fire!” is meandering, uninteresting, and disruptive of the flow of the album. “Bistro” is just an excuse to introduce the cast of the album with no real musical offering.
Of course, one of the draws of anything Doom touches is his lyrical skill. Thankfully, the album includes a lyric sheet, because anything the Villain says on this disc is worth reading. Trademark Doom puns like “What a call / what a real butterball / either I throw a strike / or strike out / gutter ball” make appearances throughout, but he also makes some incredibly clever indirect social commentary while punning. See: “Don’t mind me / I wrote this rhyme lightly / off of two or three Heinies / and boy was they fine, G / one black, one Spanish, one Chinee” or “Spit so many verses, sometimes my jaw twitches / one thing this party could use is more… / ahem, booze.” Here, Doom plays with our assumptions about hip-hop culture. Of course, the next thing we expect him to say is “bitches,” but the Villain is one step ahead and embarrassingly outwits us. The only lyrical misstep is when Madlib steps to the mike and embarrasses himself with an awkward and thoughtless rumination on the past, present, and future.
The chemistry between Doom and Madlib is also of note. In “Curls,” Doom says “Spliff made him swore he saw heaven,” conjuring a euphoric xylophone swell from the beat. “Meat Grinder”‘s beat pauses to let Doom take a deep breath (or a big hit) before his flow. Doom was even so inspired by Madlib’s work on “Accordion” that he named the song after the beat. The two work flawlessly together, making it seem as if one man produced and wrote the whole thing.
The only reason that Madvillainy perhaps hasn’t lived up to fan’s expectations is because they were unreasonably high. We couldn’t really have asked any more out of two first-time collaborators; their flawless chemistry and spectacular on-mike relationship brings to mind another recent first-time duo, Non-Prophets (Sage Francis and Joe Beats), and nearly out-steps their success. In the end, it’s easily one of the best pieces of work of both participants’ careers and a mark of the incredible talent both possess. With an album as fantastic as Madvillainy, MF Doom and Madlib have set the bar high for hip-hop in 2004.