Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I Got a Legit Gig, yo!

I’m proud to announce that I was accepted as a reviewer for This was on the strength of my DJ Shadow and Spank Rock reviews posted on this blog, and a review of Madlib’s BeatKonducta below. I’m excited about the opportunity, although they said it may be months before I actually get anything to review. Whatevs. Ever since Clamor magazine closed down, I’ve been looking for an opportunity to get free cd’s to review, and now I gots it. Incidentally, if you go on, you can see Matt Jost’s review of the Bet Konducta.

Madlib the Beatkonducta
The Beat Konducta Vol. 1-2: Movie Scenes
Stones Throw, 2006

Otis Jackson, Jr., aka Madlib, is one the most creative, innovative, and prolific musicians in hip-hop. The son of 60s R & B singer Otis Jackson, Sr., and the brother of rapper Oh No, Madlib has been keeping underground hip-hop interesting since he first came on the scene with the now-defunct Lootpack in the early nineties. When he isn't producing albums, or acting as one-half of Jaylib or Madvillain, he's making jazz records as Yesterday's New Quintet and Sound Directions, making dub reggae mixes, and rapping as his foul-mouthed, helium-voiced alter ego Quasimoto. In between doing all that, he found time to release this 35-track disc of hip-hop instrumentals.

All the tracks on The Beat Konducta are labeled with a title and parenthetical description, ie. "The Payback (Gotta)", or "Snake Charmer (Heads Up)". The titles provide an apt description of the songs, or at least of where Madlib's head was at when he was creating them. Every track on this album is evidence of Madlib's creativity, knowledge of and reverence for music, his crate-digging skills, and his ability to make beats that are soulful, funky, and provoking all at the same time. There are no vocals per se, but Madlib does build in chopped up soul songs, snippets of rappers doing their thing, and bizarre found sounds that provide a voice for the music.

While there are some tracks on here like "Chopstyle (Suey Blast)" that are fairly banging, the overall vibe of the disc is understated, chilled out, jazzy, and funky. Madlib isn't really known for bringing the boom-bap or creating club anthems. He's more about creating a musical soundscape that pays homage to African-american musical history while updating it for this century. His beats are seamless and deceptively simple, full of nuances that make them ideal for headphones.

Despite the retro, smoked-out vibe of this disc, Madlib is not just some blunted-out sixties throwback. There is some serious anger burning underneath his bloodshot eyes, and it comes out in the samples on The Beat Konducta amidst all the chilled-out beats. "The Payback (Gotta)" has James Brown singing "I'm mad!", "Gold Jungle (Tribe) repeats a sample of someone saying "Fuck y'all!", and "Pyramids (Change) flips the line "funny how things can change, nigga" until its just the word "nigga" repeating until it becomes "a gun". Samples like these add another layer to the album, making it much more than just a collection of fat beats.

I don't know if any of these tracks were leftover from Madlib’s other projects, but some of the tracks seem to reference his previous work. "Open (Space)" and "Sir Bang (Bounce)", for example, both share the sleazy, strip-club funk of Jaylib's Champion Sound, and a lot of The Beat Konducta would have been at home on the last Quasimoto disc.

In fact, The Beat Konducta has the same flaws I found in The Further Adventures of Lord Quas. For one thing, the tracks are too short. Most of them are under two minutes, and they often don't get the chance to fully develop their groove. Just when I would start getting into a song, it would end. The upside of this is that I was never bored, but I would have like to have more time with tracks like "Toe Fat (Ghettozone)".

The other issue I had with The Beat Konducta was that sometimes Madlib got a little too out there for his own good, which resulted in songs that were interesting from a creative standpoint, but not a lot of fun to listen to. "Electric Company (Voltage-Watts)" and "Offbeat (Groove)" both had long, bizarre samples that had me racing for the fast forward button on my stereo every time they came on. Luckily there were only a couple tracks like this on the record, and they didn't detract very much from the overall experience.

Madlib's The Beat Kondukta is a must-have for fans, and definitely worth the price of admission for anyone into underground hip-hop, old soul and jazz, and good music in general. Hip-hop is lucky to have someone with his skills contributing to the game, and this disc will definitely tide you over until the new Madvillain record comes out.

Music Vibes: 8.0 Lyric Vibes: n/a Total Vibes: 8.0

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