Lord Quas - the foul mouthed, Alf-esque stoner who hangs around with Madlib - is undoubtedly one of the most bizarre and individualistic voices in modern hip hop. Despite only having three studio albums under his belt, he's continually pushed the envelope when it comes to weed, violence and general lyrical delinquency. Nowhere does he do this better than on The Unseen, his landmark 2000 debut. One of Madlib's earliest projects, it carries key hallmarks of his later work: esoteric samples, intricate composition and irreverent stoner humour.
Some of the record's ingenuity is no doubt owed to the fact that Lord Quas and Madlib are flip sides of the same coin. Quasimoto represents Madlib's first experimentation with alter-egos and characters, something that would come to define his work in his fictionally-staffed jazz outfit, Yesterday's New Quintet. The Unseen is the first full-length instalment of his inspired self-collaborations.
Recorded in Peanut Butter Wolf's basement in the midst of a month-long psychedelic mushroom binge, The Unseen is about as complex as sampling gets. We didn't let that dissuade us - and neither should you. Over the next three instalments, we delve behind The Unseen, exploring the many, many samples and interpolations that helped make the album an underground essential.
"Welcome To Violence"
Preempting any shock he may cause when he threatens to hit someone with a brick, Quas opens his album with a meditation on the history of violence. Violence's "favourite mantel," he tells us, "still remains sex."
Both the music and the narration is directly lifted from the pre-title opening of Russ Meyer's 1965 magnum opus, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!. A sexploitation film notorious for its sex and violence, it's an apt sample for duly-named track. The music from the film's opening is composed by Igo Kantor, Bert Shefter and Paul Sawtell.
Madlib would go on to sample two of Meyer's scores in "Rainbows," a track off Madvillainy.
A fitting introduction to the foul-mouthed emcee, "Bad Character" finds Lord Quas smacking people with bricks, passing out poisoned apples and looking up girls' skirts. It also features the first appearance of Melvin Van Peebles, a great influence on and recurring voice throughout The Unseen.
The ambiance that follows the five-second drum intro is taken from Iron Butterfly's 1970 track "Butterfly Bleu." A psychedelic acid rock band instrumental in the development of heavy metal music, they recorded six albums across eight years.
Stones Throw founder Peanut Butter Wolf sampled this same track in 1998, which may explain how Madlib first came across it.
Quas' first claim about his "bad character" predates The Unseen by two whole years. Appearing on Peanut Butter Wolf's debut album, My Vinyl Weighs A Ton, "Styles, Crews, Flows, Beats" was one of just two tracks that featured an appearance from hip hop trio Lootpack, of which Madlib was a member.
Lord Quas interpolates this early verse at 0:16, identifying himself as "the bad character you see upon the screen."
Quasimoto took the inspiration for his phrasing from a Melvin Van Peebles track. "I'm a Bad Character" is taken from Van Peebles' 1972 musical, Don't Play Us Cheap, in which the devil attempts to break up a Harlem house party.
Emceeing is more than just an activity: it's a science. As Lord Quas explains, Madlib furnishes the beats whilst he works atop it. The first verse extolls the one-man partnership, whilst the second explores Quas' life by way of numbers.
The expressionistic piano that opens "Microphone Mathematics" is the work of jazz great Thelonious Monk. "Pannonica" is the seventh track on 1957's Thelonious Alone in San Fransisco, Monk's third solo album. It was recorded live at SF's Fugazi Hall, though without an audience present. Amazingly, it was the third album Monk released that year alone.
The looping trumpet introduced at 0:20 seconds belongs to Don Cherry, a trumpeter and noted proponent of ethnic jazz. Madlib's sample is taken from "Complete Communion," the title track/side-long suite from Cherry's first album as leader.
The pronounced drums are sourced from Bob Azzam's "Rain, Rain, Go Away," a 1968 funk track. Azzam was an Egyptian singer who experienced limited international success in the 1960s.
Perhaps his most substantial success came in the form of sampling: elements of "Rain, Rain, Go Away" have been utilised by artists such as Ghostface Killah, Action Bronson, Pro Era, Earl Sweatshirt, A$AP Ferg and O.C.
Madlib takes two of his most essential vocal samples from De La Soul's 1996 track, "The Bizness." That track is from Stakes Is High, their first album without production from Prince Paul. The titular phrase - "understanding microphone mathematics" - is taken from Posdnuos' verse.
The vocal sample at 1:17 - "you should try keeping it right" - is also Posdnuos, and appears immediately before the recurring titular sample.
The sample comes just one year after the release of Illmindmuzik, Declaime's debut effort. Madlib would go on to produce Declaime's debut album, 2003's A Lil' Light.
The Watts Prophets were a trio who incorporated both jazz and poetry into their recordings, making them early forerunners of hip hop.
Quas has "the basic instinct to keep the party live," a feeling he flaunts throughout this smoke-heavy, content-light vibe of a track.
The old school beat sample that appears at 1:15 is lifted from the opening to Audio Two's "Top Billin'." The opening track off their debut album, 1988's What More Can I Say?, it was ultimately the biggest of their seven year, three LP career.
"Top Billin'" has since become a prolific track for both sampling and interpolating, pilfered by the likes of Kanye West, JAY-Z, 50 Cent, Tupac, Mary J. Blige, Dr. Dre, Notorious B.I.G. and many more.
One sample on "Basic Instinct" was uncovered retrospectively. It wasn't until the release of Lootpack's The Lost Tapes in 2004 that another of Madlib's self-samples was revealed. "Psyche Move" was recorded sometime between '94 and '96, prior to Lootpack's 1999 debut.
Madlib takes a tiny lyrical fragment - "uh, check one, two" - and inserts it from 0:57 onwards.
The turntable-scratched fragment at the close - "keeping you hooked / like an addiction" - is another vintage vocal sample. "I Got Da Feelin'" was a hit off Sweet Tee's 1988 debut, It's Tee Time, charting at #48 on the US R&B chart.
The Queens-based emcee released just one album, and though she's apparently still active as a musician, Sweet Tee now works for a drug treatment program in her neighbourhood.
This trippy track borrows heavily from a 1971 Melvin Van Peebles track, heavily sampling and oft-interpolating melody and lyrics from the artist's trailblazing effort. Quas talks about his "Aunt Emma," who met a terrible fate when she drowned in a lake.
The non-sequiter introduction is taken from Augustus Pablo's "Unfinished Melody." Madlib slows the distinctive melodica but retains the drums at their original cadence.
Pablo was a popular Jamaican musician famed for his inspired use of the melodica. He was active from the '70s up until his untimely death in 1999. His 1976 album King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown remains an essential dub LP.
The faint instrumental that begins at 0:18 is taken from Prince Jammy's "Wafer Scale Integration." The track was on 1986's Computerised Dub, an album released as part of a 2-LP package with Wayne Smith's Sleng Teng. Smith and Jammy co-created the 'Sleng Teng riddim', considered to be amongst the first fully computerised reggae riddims.
Breaking with reggae samples, Madlib borrows drums from Hurricane Smith's "Back Into The Country." Though a little remembered musician in his own right, Norm "Hurricane" Smith is famous for his work with both The Beatles and Pink Floyd. Smith engineered all Beatles albums up until 1965's Rubber Soul, at which point he was promoted to producer. He produced three early Floyd albums, including their debut, before having a mildly successful career as an artist himself.
The album's second Melvin Van Peebles sample is taken from 1971's aptly named "Heh Heh (Chuckle) Good Morning Sunshine." It appeared on Van Peebles' second spoken word album.
As with "Bad Character," Van Peebles directly inspired the name of the track on which he was sampled. As well as the titular sample, Madlib lifts a second section of the track: "I'm not the cat you saw yesterday..." appears at 0:28.
"Discipline 99 Pt. 0"
Taking the title from a Sun Ra track, Quas links up with fellow emcee Mr. Herb to spit some braggadocios bars. Madlib, meanwhile, incorporates a vocal sample from some '60s poets as well as an obscure set from late comedian Redd Foxx.
The laidback instrumental is built atop Galt MacDermot's "Harlem Melody," a track from the Cotton Comes To Harlem OST. The Ossie Davis-directed action film is seen as an important influence on the blaxploitation movement.
The prominent sample of poetry throughout the track is taken from the first minute of The Last Poets' "Two Little Boys." A loosely-affiliated movements of poets steeped in '60s black nationalism, The Last Poets were an important influence on hip hop as a genre. "Two Little Boys" is taken from the group's debut album.
Foxx was a prolific stand up comedian who achieved widespread fame in the '70s through his role on Sanford and Son. Coincidentally, Foxx appeared in Cotton Comes To Harlem, one of just four feature film roles.
"Low Class Conspiracy"
Quas considers the plight of the African American, subject to unwelcome and constant scrutiny from the police. He tells a story about being pulled over and racially profiled before launching into a narrative about driving getaway for a bank robbery.
The frenetic beat is assembled from elements of Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery's 1968 collaboration, "Mellow Mood." It was included on Further Adventures of Jimmy and Wes, the second album by the duo. It seems likely that the albums title inspired that of Quasimoto's sophomore album, The Further Adventures of Lord Quas.
"Return of the Loop Digga"
As the title suggests, track eight heralds the return of Madlib's 'Loop Digga' persona. A 2010 compilation, Madlib Medicine Show No. 5: History of the Loop Digga, suggests that Madlib appeared as the persona from his beginnings in the early '90s through to 2000. Quasimoto's album features one of the final appearances from the alias, as a digitally-inclined Madlib would later brand himself the 'Beat Konducta'. In what seems to be a production flex, Madlib uses the opportunity to sample 13 seperate tracks in under four minutes.
The horn lick that opens the track is taken from Tyrone Washington's "Submission," a track off his 1973 LP, Roots.
Washington is one of jazz's most intriguing enigmas: after releasing four albums, including two on Blue Note Records, the saxophonist totally vanished. One writer guesses that he abandoned jazz due to his religious faith, but the reasons for his disappearance remain a mystery.
The vocals begin with an interpolation of an earlier Quasimoto appearance. He announces Madlib's presence using his alias: "It's the Loop Digga / Man, it's the Loop Digga..."
This track was previously interpolated on "Bad Character," as it's one of Quasimoto's few guest appearances from before The Unseen. The artist, Peanut Butter Wolf, is the founder of Stones Throw Records, a famed and revered independent label.
The verse begins atop a sample from Sight and Sound's cover of "Fragment of Fear." The original jazz-heavy soundtrack was composed by Johnny Harris, an artist who has since worked with acts such as Lulu, Shirley Bassey and Paul Anka.
The distinctive bassline fades in from 0:05, and can be heard clearly from 0:14 on. It continues underpinning the verse until the dramatic shift at 1:06.
The cinematic track that bursts in at 1:06 is taken from the Three The Hard Way OST. The Impressions contributed the soundtrack to the 1974 blaxploitation picture, following in the footsteps of former member Curtis Mayfield, who recorded his legendary Super Fly OST two years earlier. The Impressions' soundtrack received lukewarm reviews, and both the album and film now exist in the shadow of Super Fly. Both films share the same director, Gordon Parks, Jr.
The instrumental then suddenly veers into more Blue Note jazz. The sample at 1:18 is taken from the outro of Ronnie Laws' "Tidal Wave," a track off his 1975 debut, Pressure Sensitive. That record contains Laws' most enduring hit, the clavinet-heavy "Always There."
Laws joined Earth, Wind and Fire for a brief period, contributing to their 1972 record, Last Days and Time. He left before they achieved fame.
The next sample underpinning Madlib's discussion with the record store clerk is lifted from Galt MacDermot's Cotton Comes To Harlem OST. Madlib previously sampled the same soundtrack on "Discipline 99 Pt. 0." Madlib's brother, Oh No, released an album comprised entirely of MacDermot samples in 2006.
The drums that run alongside MacDermot's score are lifted from a seperate source: Ike and Tina Turner's "Cussin', Cryin' and Carryin' On." The title track from their 1969 LP, it was released as a b-side to their cover of soul standard "Shake Your Tailfeather."
The duo would famously and acrimoniously split less than a decade later, and Ike's name remains synonymous with domestic violence to this day.
Madlib lifts a drum break from Black Sabbath's "Behind The Wall of Sleep," inserting it along a jazz sample at 1:37.
The track is taken from the group's self-titled debut, often considered to be the first heavy metal album. Whilst contemporary critics were largely unimpressed, retrospective reviews have been far kinder. Black Sabbath are today considered both pioneers and exemplars of heavy metal.
Madlib uses Son And Daughters Of Lite's "Darkuman Junktion" to score the next part of his record store discussion. The sample begins at 1:38. A soul group hailing from Oakland, California, Sons And Daughters of Lite released just one album, 1978's Let The Sun Shine In. The album features long soul/jazz jams that earned endorsement from Sun Ra himself.
Madlib leaves the record store disappointed, and Quas urges him to speak his mind over the smooth sounds of Kool & the Gang's "North, East, South, West." The sample begins at 1:56.
That track is cut from their third studio album, 1972's Good Times, which predated their mainstream success. It wouldn't be until the end of the decade that they would enter their commercial peak, spurred by a number of creative changes.
The stark beat shift at 2:01 makes way for a sample of The Electric Prunes' "Holy Are You." It was included on the group's fourth LP, Release of an Oath, composed by famed avant-garde composer (and Madlib favourite) David Axelrod.
Alexrod's compositions were so complicated that the group disbanded due to their inability to perform the tracks. As a result, most of the album was actually performed by session musicians.
Madlib caps out his featuring verse with another Axelrod sample, this time from the composer's own 1969 record, Songs of Experience.
The album, a follow up to 1968's Song of Innocence, takes its name from the Blake collection of the same name. Though Axelrod's bold experimentation confused both critics and audiences, his work would be critically reassessed and favoured by sample-savvy hip hop producers.
As is his style, Madlib closes the track with a brief, unrelated musical vignette. This outro is underscored by Eugene McDaniels' "Supermarket Blues," a track off his 1971 album, Headless Heroes Of The Apocalypse. After a short career as a successful singer in the '60s, McDaniels became more politically active, penning classic protest song "Compared To What" in 1966. Headless Heroes has become a hip hop staple due to samples from acts such as ATCQ and Gravediggaz.