Born Otis Jackson Jr., hip hop producer Madlib has become one of the most consistent and intriguing beatsmiths of the yet-young century. The son of soul singer Otis Jackson and songwriter Senesca Jackson, Madlib is famed for his esoteric samples and nigh-superhuman work ethic. He was once quoted as saying: “when I do music, I wake up, do music, go to sleep, that’s it.”
Signed by Stone's Throw founder Peanut Butter Wolf in 1998, he was quick to collaborate with some of the music industry's brightest up-and-comers. Early collaborations with MF DOOM and J. Dilla helped him find exposure, whilst his solo work as helium-pitched emcee Quasimoto only intensified critical acclaim.
It's no secret that OneFourOne respects Madlib's artistry - our deep dives on Madvillainy and Piñata are products of musical adoration. Driven by the same appreciation, we've compiled a little breakdown on Madlib's extensive catalogue. Whilst not comprehensive, it's a guide to a handful of Madlib's most significant LPs, spanning single emcee collaborations, guest-laden solo releases and Quasimoto efforts.
Soundpieces: Da Antidote (1998)
1999's Soundpieces was Madlib's first official LP. The debut album from Lootpack, a trio comprised of Madlib, Californian emcee Wildchild and breakbeat artist DJ Romes, it followed two EPs - 1998's The Anthem and 1996's Psych Move. It was the success of Psych Move, a record funded by Madlib's musician father, that brought the group to the attention of Stones Throw founder Peanut Butter Wolf.
Soundpieces was promoted by two singles: "Whenimondamic" and "The Anthem." The record was mixed by KutMasta Kurt, a mixing engineer and producer best known for his collaborations with Kool Keith, including Sex Style, Matthew, First Come, First Served and two tracks on Dr. Octagonecologyst.
Whilst the group have yet to release an official sophomore effort, the three members have since collaborated on numerous projects. The trio all contributed to Wildchild's 2002 album, Secondary Protocol, which can be loosely considered a Lootpack effort. Soundpieces: Da Antidote also featured the character of Quasimoto, whose verse on "Answers" presaged his debut LP, The Unseen, released two years later.
The Unseen (2000)
The Unseen offers an album-length introduction to Quasimoto, Madlib's emceeing alter ego. A vulgar stoner blessed with a distinctive and captivating high-pitched voice, Lord Quas floats over Madlib's eccentric beats, threatening cartoonish violence and revelling in his place as a "bad character" in town.
Madlib assembled The Unseen over the course of a month. He was living in Peanut Butter Wolf's basement at the time, subsisting on a diet steeped in copious amounts of shrooms. A psychedelic odyssey, Quas' debut has been called "a puzzling, psychedelic jazz-rap gem riddled with warped humor and fractured musical genius."
The record's distinctive art style established Quasimoto's image, though his Alf-esque appearance was largely unintended. He's depicted on the sleeve as 'the unseen,' a vaguely humanoid figure lounging in the backseat of a car. Artist Keith Griego took one of the three furry creatures from his "Microphone Mathematics" sleeve - originally meant to represent the three members of Lootpack - and inserted it on the inside sleeve of the LP. By The Further Adventures of Lord Quas, this illustration had become Quasimoto.
Champion Sound (2003)
Champion Sound is a significant release for a number of reasons. Firstly, it's Madlib's debut collaborative LP, an effort that paves the way for future projects such as Madvillainy and Piñata. Secondly, it's his sole collaboration with the legendary J Dilla, a production prodigy whose incredible talent was gaining mainstream recognition when he died of TTP.
Quasimoto, now a staple of Madlib's work, appeared on both "React" and "Strip Club." The other artists who joined the fray were Talib Kweli, Frank-N-Dank, Percee P and Guilty Simpson, all of whom would continue to collaborate with the Loop Digga in the years following. Dilla's next release would be Donuts, his seminal sophomore album. Released just days before his death, it's a distillation of his unique style, both technically proficient and creatively engaging.
Kanye famously said that "his music just sounded like good pussy." Pitchfork called Donuts "pure postmodern art." Even eleven years after its release, Q Magazine deemed it a "tour de force in postmodern beatmaking." Though Dilla is gone, his legacy lives on - at least in part through Champion Sound.
Despite his hip hop prowess, Madlib is no stranger to jazz: his side project, Yesterday's New Quintet, is a jazz 'group' mostly comprised of Madlib's alter-egos. His knowledge of jazz bleeds over into his sampling work, where he often borrows from jazz artists such as Bill Evans, Bobby Militello and Dr. Lonnie Smith.
The album also features an appearance from rapper M.E.D., as well as Madlib alias DJ Lord Such and side project Yesterday's New Quintet. "Stepping Into Tomorrow," a remix of Donald Byrd's track of the same name, features MF DOOM in a collaboration foreshadowing 2004's Madvillainy.
The most revered instalment in Madlib's catalogue is his 2004 collaboration with enigmatic emcee MF DOOM. Madvillainy, so far the sole LP from their Madvillain collaboration, is a modern classic. An essential listen for any hip hop fan, it's often the point of entry for those becoming accustomed with Madlib's production discography.
As a touchstone of hip hop, Madvillainy has prompted much in the way of reflection, including Jeff Weiss' terrific feature on the makings of the now-classic collaboration. Even we tried our hand at a Madvillainy retrospective: check out OneFourOne's in-depth exploration of Madlib's Madvillainy samples.
DOOM and Madlib make a compelling duo, and the pair have collaborated many times in the years since. Despite their acclaimed musical rapport and continued commercial successes, Madlib himself isn't optimistic about the fate of the long-awaited Madvillain sequel. Withholding the heavily-anticipated sequel is itself a typically villainous act.
Broken beat, derived from jazz, soul, funk and R&B, seems a strong fit for the prolific jazz-sampling producer. Though DJ Rels was originally billed as an entirely new producer, music publications quickly saw through the charade.
Released under a one-time pseudonym without any singles, Theme For A Broken Soul remains one of Madlib's more obscure LPs. Whilst it's likely that any record slotted between Madvillainy and The Further Adventures of Lord Quas would suffer a similar fate, it's especially true for a piece confined to an influential-yet-niche musical movement.
The Further Adventures of Lord Quas (2005)
Quasimoto's suitably titled sophomore album brings more snark from the crass emcee. Now fully realised as a pot smoking, shit talking, Alf-esque menace, Lord Quas doubles down on his vile sensibilities, pairing them with Madlib's ever-inspired instrumentals.
The Further Adventures features appearances from DOOM and M.E.D., two of Madlib's most frequent collaborators. With the exception of those two tracks, the album is entirely without guests, an enduring hallmark of Quasimoto's three LPs.
Though it's generally considered to be a satisfying continuation of Quas' career, The Further Adventures was not without detractors. A BBC review called it "a bit of a mess," whilst Exclaim! Magazine found it to be "not an easy listen." Luckily, the bad character isn't one to be phased by criticism. Whilst Lord Quas would return in 2013's Yessir Whatever, The Further Adventures remains his most recent album of wholly original material.
Kweli's fifth album, it represented his first collaborative LP since Reflection Eternal's 2000 debut, Train of Thought. Though Madlib and Kweli hadn't technically worked together before the record, Kweli appeared on J. Dilla's "Raw Shit," a track off Jaylib's Champion Sound.
In early 2018, Mos Def announced that Black Star - a hip hop outfit comprising of him and Talib Kweli - were to release their long-awaited sophomore album, boasting front-to-back production from Madlib.
Though Percee P released his first single in 1992, it wouldn't be until 2007 that he released a full-length studio album. The South Bronx-based rapper, once called the “legendary lyricist of the subterranean,” previously linked up with Madlib on Jaylib's "The Exclusive." You could definitely find worse producers for your debut.
Released on Stones Throw Records, Perserverance featured appearances from previous Percee P collaborators Aesop Rock and Vinnie Paz, as well as frequent Madlib offsiders Guilty Simpson and Prince Po. Perserverance achieved very limited commercial success, not unexpected considering Percee's underground pedigree. The album received a generally positive critical response, with specific praise given to Madlib's beat selection.
It should come as no surprise that, eleven years on, Percee P has yet to release his sophomore album. Given his established pace, we should expect it sometime in 2022.
Though seemingly unexpected, the collaboration was not without precedence: Madlib had covered Azymuth's "Papa" on Yesterday New Quintet's debut project, Angles Without Edges. The project finds Madlib diving into latin jazz, a genre seldom explored on his other more hip-hop and traditional jazz-oriented projects.
Less of a Madlib-specific take on Brasilian funk and more an earnest love letter to the sound itself, Sujinho plays like a restrained Madlib exploring a sound he's always appreciated from afar. Though unavailable on some streaming services, the entire 18-track project is available to stream on YouTube.
Madvillainy 2: The Madlib Remix (2008)
In a 2013 interview with Rolling Stone, Madlib commented on the prospects of a second Madvillain outing: "I handed all the beats to Doom years ago, but ever since he's been in Europe, he's been hard to get a hold of. I feel it probably won't happen, but you never know. I can't sit and wait on that. I did my part."
Seeing as DOOM's enigmatic persona had stalled a second instalment, Madlib decided to go it alone. Though not an official sequel, Madlib's Madvillainy 2 is an unorthodox remix of the duo's lauded debut.
Reinterpreting a universally acclaimed record is no task for the faint of heart, and the lack of notoriety surrounding Madvillainy 2 is indicative of the general lack of interest in the remix. Despite this, the album received generally positive reviews, with a more critical appraisal coming from - who else - Pitchfork. A 5.9 isn't necessarily a bad score, but it weighs heavy on a project assembled from fragments of a classic.
WLIB AM: King of the Wigflip (2008)
The last of Madlib's three 2008 releases, King of the Wigflip is a more general producer-driven record. Though it finds Madlib linking up with many of his frequent collaborators, the record was issued through the same initiative that birthed J. Dilla's Welcome To Detroit and The Shining.
British hip hop label Barely Breaking Even, popularly known as BBE, issued 12 LPs as a part of their 'Beat Generation' series. The series, which ran between 2001 and 2008, featured records from Pete Rock, J. Dilla, will.i.am and DJ Jazzy Jeff. The series intended to place the spotlight on the producers, who are often maligned in favour of the emcees featured upon the instrumentals.
Though it was J. Dilla whose fandom brought Simpson notoriety, he's had a much stronger working relationship with Madlib. He appeared alongside Madlib on Dilla's posthumously released track, "Baby." Simpson also provided guest vocals on Dilla's 2006 cut, "Jungle Love," and his 2007 release, "Take Notice."
Madlib produced five of the sixteen tracks on Simpson's 2008 debut, Ode to the Ghetto, before embarking on a fully-collaborative LP with the Detroit-based rapper. Whilst the pair haven't collaborated since the release of O.J. Simpson, a 2018 collaboration between Simpson and Madlib protege M.E.D. bodes well for the future.
In Search of Stoney Jackson (2010)
Strong Arm Steady's sophomore album came a long seven years after their initial formation. In the years since their founding, the group had gone from an eight-strong collective to a tight three-man outfit.
Though originally whittled down to four key members for studio work, onetime frontman Xzibit left the group a year before their 2007 debut, Deep Hearted. SAS appeared on Madlib collaborations Liberation and OJ Simpson, forming a rapport with the prolific producer three years before the collaboration was realised.
The majority of the emceeing was handled by SAS members Krondon and Phil da Agony, the latter of whom Madlib had previously sampled on Madvillain's "America's Most Wanted." Though Mitchy Slick is also a member of SAS, he appeared on just two of the album's eighteen tracks. The album, which features appearances from Phonte, Oh No, Guilty Simpson and Talib Kweli, received generally positive reviews from critics.
Singer-songwriter Georgia Anne Muldrow has been called "one of the most daring and important (albeit underappreciated) artists of her time." A Stones Throw signee, it seems inevitable that the accomplished multi-instrumentalist would cross paths with Madlib. In 2012, the pair linked up for her twelfth studio album.
The album consists of eleven tracks, most of which are unusually short for an R&B album. Whilst arguably a consequence of Madlib's short-form beats, the record is guided by Muldrow's own eccentricities. In a show of assured versatility, Muldrow released her first hip hop album, A Thoughtiverse Unmarred, in 2015. A jazz rap LP, the album received little press but good reviews.
In a 2009 New York Times article, Mos Def heaped praise on Muldrow, saying "she’s incredible. She’s like Flack, Nina Simone, Ella, she’s something else. She’s like religion. It’s heavy, vibrational music. I’ve never heard a human being sing like this." Her catalogue is available through SomeOthaShip, the independent label she started with her husband, Dudley Perkins, better known as frequent Madlib collaborator Declaime.
Yessir Whatever (2013)
The third Quasimoto LP, Yessir Whatever, is more a vague collection of tracks than a cohesive statement. Billed as "12 tracks recorded over a roughly 12-year period," it's a typically comical dive into Madlib's treasure trove of unreleased material.
It makes sense that Lord Quas' third outing be assembled from Madlib's own private collection - Quas began as a private project, intended solely for "a small circle of local smokers and their car stereos." The 12-track LP runs for a fleeting 32 minutes: though Quas is no stranger to musical vignettes, his preceding albums featured twice the number of tracks.
Quas hinted at new material in late 2016, though nothing has come of his vague allusions. In a 2013 interview, when asked if he was considering releasing an album of all-new Quasimoto material, Madlib claimed that "the shrooms were the stuff that made [him] do Quasimoto in the first place." Given his prolific nature and high demand, it might be a while before we hear from America's most blunted.
The debut project by MadGibbs, a collaboration between Madlib and Indiana rapper Freddie Gibbs, was a long time coming. Though they released their first EP in 2011, it took three years for Piñata to burst onto the scene. Burst it did: the record was showered in acclaim, becoming Madlib's most accessible output since 2004's Madvillainy.
Piñata plays as a blaxploitation film committed to wax. An unorthodox take on the gangsta rap genre blends Madlib's lush, retro soundscapes and Gibbs' harsh-yet-introspective worldview. The album also features an uncommonly large roster of features, including Danny Brown, Raekwon, Ab-Soul, Scarface, Earl Sweatshirt and Meechy Darko.
This record is such an accessible listen due to Gibbs: he buoys Madlib in conventional structures, and whilst he's still prone to a jarring outro or unorthodox sample, Gibbs' traditional approach to emceeing fosters roots Madlib in tradition.
Bad Neighbor (2015)
A collaborative LP with Californian rappers M.E.D. and Blu, Bad Neighbor features one of Madlib's most stacked rosters. Appearances from artists such as DOOM, Anderson .Paak, Hodgy Beats, Phonte, Aloe Blacc, Mayer Hawthorne and Lootpack's DJ Romes run throughout the fifteen-track album, with all but three songs boasting at least one guest artist.
Whilst M.E.D. has long been a Madlib associate, Bad Neighbor marked the first collaboration between Jackson and California rapper Blu. Despite his status as a relative newcomer, the prolific L.A.-based artist released eight studio albums in the eight years from 2008 to 2015. Five of those eight were collaborative LPs.
Interestingly, Blu and M.E.D. had previously linked up on 2013's "Jones's," a track off Oh No's Disrupted Ads. Oh No - real name Michael Woodrow Jackson - is Madlib's younger brother. A record high on atmospherics and low on pretence, Bad Neighbor ultimately received critical acclaim.
But Wait -- There's More!
Madlib's studio albums only cover a fraction of the prolific producer's output. Though he's released a wide variety of LPs over the last two decades, the obsessively productive Beat Konducta keeps himself busy with a wide variety of side projects and lesser-known musical hustles.
Over the next few weeks, we'll be releasing companion pieces that delve into the work of Jackson's jazz group, Yesterday's New Quintet, as well as his four expansive album series: Madlib Medicine Show, Beat Konducta, Rock Konducta and Mind Fusion.