Otis Jackson Jr., better known as Madlib, is one of hip hop's premier producers. Known primarily for his collaborations with MF DOOM and Freddie Gibbs, as well as his work as foul-mouthed helium emcee Quasimoto, he's inspired a cult following by way of snarky rhymes and increasingly inspired samples.
Complementing Jackson's traditional LP releases are four 'series' of albums. Generally lower profile than his more conventionally released efforts, these series - Beat Konducta, Rock Konducta, Madlib Medicine Show and Mind Fusion - showcase some of his most unorthodox and under-appreciated work, crafting deep-cut albums often derived from a single genre or musical movement.
In this entry in our comprehensive series on Madlib - which has previously explored his core discography and his sampling on revered releases Madvillainy and Piñata - we delve into the prolific producer's remaining catalogue.
Mind Fusion (2004 - 2007)
Madlib's first multi-instalment series, Mind Fusion, featured five mixtapes released over three years. Whilst the mixes represent Madlib at his most unpredictable, they often acted as compilations, packaging previously released tracks that served as inspirations. The liner notes - rare, given the extremely limited run of physical copies - make use of essays "from authors such as Thurston Moore, Vaclav Havel, LeRoi Jones, and Lungston Hughes," as well as "Los Angeles guides, poems, [and] tips on making bombs at home."
On Mind Fusion Vol. 1, Madlib kicks off his mixtape series with a conventionally hip-hop heavy selection featuring a huge roster of Stones Throw artists. Cuts by frequent collaborators such as Wildchild, Declaime, M.E.D. and Oh No make up some of the tape, whilst remixes of acts such as Common, Method Man, Diverse and Outsidaz also appear. Perhaps the most intriguing cut is "Beer Games," a collaboration credited to Madvillain and Jaylib - you can check out the story behind the track here.
On Mind Fusion Vol. 2, Madlib foregoes his peers to show appreciation for the classics. Comprised of soul and funk cuts from the '60, '70s and '80s, the brisk 56-minute mix incorporates elements of 36 original tracks. Some tracks foreshadow samples: Wille Tee and The Gaturs were sampled on MadGibbs' "Supplier," whilst George Duke's work was featured on Madvillain's "Supervillain Theme." Madlib would go on to collaborate with one of his inspirations: Brazilian jazz legend Ivan Conti, drummer for revered jazz-funk trio Azymuth.
On Mind Fusion Vol. 3, Madlib makes a funny joke. The 58-minute mix is split into eight seperate tracks, which are titled, in order: "Just A," "Collection," "Of The," "Hottest," "Shit," "Madlib," "Has Ever," "Produced." The mix borrows extensively from the '60s and '70s, with Madlib incorporating work from Sun Ra, The Brass Company, Lloyd McNeill and Airto Moreira. Despite the creative track titles, Vol. 3 is generally considered to be one of Madlib's weaker mixes.
On Mind Fusion Vol. 4, Madlib pits remix against remix in his own rendering of hip hop's greatest beef. Juxtaposing his own takes on Nas against his takes on JAY-Z, Madlib remixes classics such as "99 Problems," "Public Service Announcement," "Get Down" and "Hey Nas." Other selections include two tracks from Madvillainy 2: The Madlib Remix, a previously unreleased mid-'90s cut featuring Wildchild, Declaime and Quasimoto, and remixes of tracks by RZA, Large Professor, Planet Asia and Frank N Dank.
On Mind Fusion Vol. 5, the final instalment in the series, Madlib divides a swathe of beats and fleeting songs into two huge tracks. Coming in at 36 and 37 minutes respectively, the two tracks incorporate elements of contemporary hip hop, with nods to his late pal J. Dilla, as well as typically obscure pieces of disco, soul, reggae and dub. Featured artists include Swedish pop act Doris, Brazilian singer-songwriter Joyce Moreno, reggae group The Congos and classic Watts-based R&B group The Sylvers.
The rarest of all Mind Fusion mixes, African Earwax was a bonus mix distributed in CD form at a June 2015 art exhibition celebrating Jason Jägels, an artist best known for his work on MF DOOM's Operation: Doomsday and Mm.. Food. Limited to thirty copies, each with unique album art drawn by Jägel himself, the mix was highly coveted until it was uploaded as the first addition to Madlib's Mixcloud account. He's since uploaded all of the otherwise-rare Mind Fusion mixes to the account. In 2015, Rolling Stone called this tape one of the greatest internet mixes of all time.
Beat Konducta (2006 - 2009)
The Beat Konducta series finds Madlib revelling in the most technically engaging aspects of his craft. Whilst collaborating with emcees often involves both complementary choices and, by extension, compromises, producing a fully instrumental hip hop album leaves one to their own devices. Working with tenacity that borders on obsession, Madlib's five-instalment Beat Konducta series shows him indulging himself. Expect brief vignettes that sample from a wide range of tracks, both familiar and impressively esoteric.
On Beat Konducta Vol. 1-2: Movie Scenes, Madlib scores an imaginary film. He incorporates retro soul pastiche and cinematic soundbites across the 35-track project, borrowing from a typically wide range of genres, movements and subcultures.
On Beat Konducta Vol. 5-6: A Tribute to… (Dil Cosby and Dil Withers Suite), the final instalment of the Beat Konducta series, Madlib pays his respects to his friend and collaborator, J. Dilla. The 70-minute record borrows predominantly from soul and jazz. Pitchfork praised the album as a "flood of sounds and ideas and emotions," surely a fitting memorial to an inspired musician and a dear friend.
Madlib Medicine Show (2010 - 2012)
Despite only running for two years, Medicine Show is Madlib's most prolific projects: all in all, the 13-instalment series runs for roughly 826 minutes, or 13 hours and 45 minutes. Odd numbered instalments feature original compositions by Madlib himself, whilst even numbered instalments are compilations curated by the producer.
Medicine Show #1: Before The Verdict, released in February 2010, acts as a prequel to Madlib's then-upcoming collaboration with Guilty Simpson. Madlib remixes nine tracks from Simpson's debut album, Ode To The Ghetto, including two that he'd originally produced. It also features six original tracks, one Jaylib remix and an unreleased collaboration with Dilla.
Medicine Show #2: Flight To Brazil was billed as "an 80-minute guided tour through three of four decades of Brazilian funk, psychedelic, prog-rock and jazz." Madlib's reverence for Brazilian music is well documented. The liner notes to his collaboration with Ivan Conti, a veteran Brazilian jazz drummer, begins with an upfront declaration: "Madlib loves Brasilian music."
Medicine Show #3: Beat Konducta In Africa functions as both a Medicine Show release and an unofficial instalment of the Beat Konducta series. Like other Beat Konducta records, Beat Konducta In Africa features original Madlib compositions based around a specific genre - this album explores and emulates the African music scene of the '70s.
Medicine Show #4: 420 Chalice All-Stars, a reggae compilation tape, is described as a "musical disc from the flick of his wrist to make you jump and twist." Much like Mind Fusion Vol. 3, Madlib titles the tracks for laughs: names include "What Are the Medical Benefits of Smoking Marijuana?," "Where Is All This Pot Coming From?," and other unprompted weed FAQs.
Medicine Show #5: History of The Loop Digga, 1990–2000 is, as the name suggests, a trip back in time. Before he was the Beat Konducta, Madlib was The Loop Digga, an obsessive muso who pilfered crates of records in search of the perfect samples. The previously-unreleased tracks are largely instrumental, though there are fragments of emceeing from both Oh No and Madlib himself.
Medicine Show #6: The Brain Wreck Show is described by Stones Throw as immersed in "Global psychedelia, Asian funk, prog rock, conspiracy theories... [and] paranoia." Comprised of prog rock and psychedelia from 1968 to 1976, it's another guided tour through a specific time and place.
The tracks are fittingly named for verbose conspiracies, such as "Its Sudden and Complete Collapse Predicted" and "The Real New Order."
Medicine Show #7: High Jazz, billed as "the latest from Yesterdays Universe," explores one of Madlib's most interesting projects. Yesterday's Universe replaced Yesterday's New Quintet in 2007, expanding Madlib's roster of mostly-fictional jazz musicians. Whilst artists like Poyser and Riggins are real people, many of the artists named on the album are aliases of Madlib himself.
Medicine Show #8: Advanced Jazz is "an 80-minute music history course talking place in a dusty, hazy studio with wall-to-wall jazz vinyl."
Madlib mixes jazz classics across 10 legend-specific tracks, including "Ra," "Coltrane," "Miles," "Herbie" and "Mingus." Featured originals aren't signposted, turning the mix to a sweeping mosaic of jazz itself. Sit back and enjoy the ride. Don't stress it - "this course will not be graded."
Medicine Show #9: Nittyville features a rare accompanying emcee. Madlib links up with MC Frank Nitt, one-half of frequent collaborators Frank n Dank, for a full 45-minute studio album.
The first single producer, single MC instalment of Medicine Show offers another insight into the hip hop production that made Madlib a household name.
Medicine Show #10: Black Soul finds Madlib exploring the depths of the early disco scene.
A deliberate subversion of the already-loaded title, which invokes images of James Brown and his '60s peers, Madlib uses the mix to illuminate "a dynamic point in the Black American musical experience." In true Madlib fashion, the track names make reference to the aims of MKULTRA, the covert CIA mind control program.
Medicine Show #11: Low Budget High Fi Music functions as a general collaboration album featuring a roster of familiar names. Another unreleased Jaylib track surfaces, whilst guests such as Oh No, Guilty Simpson, Strong Arm Steady and Karriem Riggins make their presence felt. At one hour long, it's another beefy album snuck out as an instalment in the absurdly prolific series.
Medicine Show #12: Raw Medicine (Madlib Remixes), originally slated as the final instalment in the series, is described as "part mixtape, part beat tape, featuring a host of un-suspecting collaborators that run the gamut from thugs, street poets, star emcees and underdogs." The hour-long project features AZ, Q-Tip, Clipse, Royce da 5'9, Royal Flush and Beanie Sigel, amongst others.
Medicine Show #13: Black Tape is the surprise waiting at the end. The extra instalment, which comes with no thematic contention, features selections from legends such as GZA, Eminem, Pharoahe Monch, Redman, DOOM, Common, Nas and Organized Konfusion. Released six months after the previous instalment, the 60-minute mix caps out an expansive and illuminating project.
Rock Konducta (2013 - Present)
The only currently ongoing series, Rock Konducta is a genre-specific take on his popular Beat Konducta releases. Taking cues and elements from a variety of rock n' roll subgenres, Madlib explores the intersection between hip hop and rock by way of fusion and creation.
Madlib first dropped Rock Konducta, Pt. 1 a mere three months before Piñata, his 2014 collaboration with Freddie Gibbs. An obvious spin off from his popular Beat Konducta series, Rock Konducta finds Madlib crafting instrumental hip hop from the annals of rock, borrowing from classic rock, prog rock, krautrock and psychedelic rock.
Rock Konducta, Pt. 2 is a straight-up continuation of the first instalment, dropping a mere seven months after Pt. 1. The 45-minute rock odyssey takes from the same sources as its predecessor, offering up the same typically smooth rock-oriented instrumental hip hop.