Cheat Sheet: Madlib
by Mosi Reeves | January 17, 2011
Last year, Otis "Madlib" Jackson, Jr., made plans for a Madlib Medicine Show: 12 releases consisting of six albums of original material and six mixtapes of songs by other artists. It proved a failure, with just nine installments reaching market, including a 10th chapter and no ninth. Add those discs to gigs producing Strong Arm Steady's In Search of Stoney Jackson and Guilty Simpson's OJ Simpson, and excursions such as Young Jazz Rebels' Slave Riot and the Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble's Miles Away, and that only made for 13 releases in 2010. Amusingly, Madlib couldn't finish the Medicine Show, but he couldn't curb his excessive productivity, either.
Madlib is an unapologetic throwback to the pop and jazz years of the '50s and '60s, when musicians would simply participate in recording sessions, and labels would compile albums from the best material. This could lead to several titles a year from best-selling bandleaders like Miles Davis and Frank Sinatra a far cry from the new-every-two strategy employed by today's pop stars. Madlib functions the same way as his heroes: he records constantly, and occasionally stops to compile the results into yet another release.
Thanks to classics such as Quasimoto's The Unseen and Madvillain's Madvillainy, Madlib is regarded as one of the greatest hip-hop artists of the past decade. Unlike Timbaland, The Neptunes, Just Blaze, Kanye West or even J Dilla, he remains an underground phenomenon, issuing nearly all his material on indie imprint Stones Throw Records. Certainly, he has never had a mainstream hit. However, major artists with an appreciation for progressive beats have sought him out: he made tracks for Erykah Badu's New Amerykah albums, Mos Def's The Ecstatic, and Ghostface Killah's More Fish. Rumors abound that he contributed tracks to Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and that he may land some credits on Kanye West and Jay-Z's forthcoming Watch the Throne. It's impossible to understand the genre's recent developments without listening to his work.
With the reclusive producer set to restart the Medicine Show series this month with No. 11: Low Budget Hi-Fi Music, it's a good time to take a deep dive into the Madlib Invazion.