Madlib Interview

  • Urban Smarts
  • October 19, 2004

Even Lou Donaldson, Melvin Sparks and Reuben Wilson know: Madlib's the man. Every time this guy steps in the studio, wizardry is being made. He creates sick music in nearly every genre. Before his show at the Montreux Jazz Festival this summer, we were sharing a rare moment of daylight with the Californian beat maestro and talked about his passion of making music, his favorite car and his and Quasimotos' issues.

You haven't done too many shows in the last couple of years, right?
Not too many. I traveled out for like months and then just like a show here and there, you know what I'm sayin'.

Did the collaboration with Jay Dee encourage you to do more shows?
Uhm, I had to. It's not that I wanted to. I wanna be in the studio, but you have to sell the records, so you have to go do some shows. Shows I can take 'em or leave 'em. I'm a studio dude. My main love is being in the studio. I like to make music 24 hours a day.

But isn't it good to get feedback, to get in contact with your fans?
Yeah, but I'm a background type of dude. I'm not like a dude that likes to be up front where people are all looking at me. I'm a shy dude; I be in the background making my beats, you know what I'm sayin'? Chillin'. But yeah, it's good. It's good to see the love people giving and I try to give the love back.

So you miss your Bomb Shelter?
Yeah. Actually I moved from there. I got my own place now. But yeah, I miss the studio.

That wasn't your own place?
No. I was living with Peanut Butter Wolf.

Do you know what you would do if you were in the studio right now?
I be finishing up my Quasimoto album. It's almost done.

What are you doing if you're not in the studio?
Hangin' with a girl, feed my daughter. But I'm always in the studio.

Do you do your projects all in one block, one after the other? Or did you switch from one to another constantly?
It was all like at once. Like I do Dudley Perkins one day, then the next day be Madvillain and so on. That's how I always work. Ten projects at once.

And how can you handle that?
I don't think about it. I just do the music. I don't think about it how other people think; it just happens. I get bored, so I gotta move to something else. I get bored easy.

Is that also the reason why you collaborate with other MCs?
The reason why I collaborate with MCs is that I wanna see if my style can fit with theirs or vice versa. See if we can bring something together. With anybody. I collaborate with anybody who is dope.

What does an artist need to work with you?
Just be dope. And have some money (laughs). Be dope. That's all: just be dope. Have an open, creative mind.

Is it always you who chose the artists that you work with?
Uhm, yeah, or like: When we were doing Madvillain, we were supposed to do one song. It turned into a whole album, cause he liked the music so much. We were just trying to work on, see if we can do a song together and it turned into a whole album.

And he just stayed at your place till the record was done?
He stayed at Wolf's, yeah.

For how long?
For a couple of days, maybe a week and a half. The

lyrics that Doom came up with, did you talk with him about them before?
Naw, I trusted him on that. He's one of my favorite lyricists. So I trusted him already. And shit came out crazy. I trust everybody I work with, I don't have to tell things. We trust each other. Just connect without sayin' and shit, you know what I'm sayin'? There's only certain people that you can do that with.

The album took a long time for it to get released!
Yeah. Politics and stuff. You gotta press the records up and stuff, promote the record. So that takes a while.

Isn't that annoying?
Yeah, because by the time you hear it, we're already done with the new one, almost.

I really like Medaphoar's part on the Madvillain album, on the track "Raid".
Yeah, yeah, his album will be out next year. It's coming out soon, it's dope!

On Stones Throw?
Yeah, fo' real, though.

How many tracks did you produce on it?
I did half of it. My brother Oh No did the other half.

He's your younger brother, right?
Uhum.

How old are you?
I'm old, pretty old. Pretty young too, though. I don't let that be known. Only I know that (laughs).

That Oh No's a hip-hop producer too, did that happened by chance?
We used to live together. And I had my equipment there. When I left, he could do his thing, you know?

The "Stevie" record that came out is about two years old, right?
Yeah, Jaylib too. I had all that stuff when I was in Brazil. I was bumpin' it back then. But you ain't see no more bootlegs, it's all good. The things goin' to be a surprise now.

You mentioned Brazil. I saw pictures of your hotel room studio on the Stones Throw website.
Yeah, Brazil was tight. I was makin' beats. I leave to Brazil next week. I gonna be making beats. Just going out there on a vacation and just make beats.

So that's all you need: Your tiny little sampler, a cheep turntable and a stereo system?
Yeah, some records. That's where Hip-Hop is from anyway: Records and sampling. That's what I do, you know what I'm sayin'?

Did you bring your equipment to Switzerland too?
Usually I bring my stuff anywhere. I didn't bring it this time, but I'm bringing my stuff everywhere, you know what I'm sayin'? If I have time for that long enough, I bring all my equipment and buy records at a store. Make some beats.

Did you buy some hot Bossa Nova records in Brazil?
I bought everything. Funk, Soul, Rock, not just Bossa Nova. They got everything out there.

Tell me about your studio! How is it equipped?
The studio's very basic; mad records. I don't have no computers, I don't have any big setups people have. I just have my 303 sampler, or SP 12, or whatever I use and just records. And a little eight digital board. That's all I need. That's how I did all my records: Madvillain, Jaylib and all of that.

Doesn't that limit your possibilities?
It doesn't limit. It doesn't limit my possibilities. People just think they need computers and things to do the work for them, but I do my stuff the old school way, the hard way, you know what I'm sayin'?

So you been using the same equipment for more than ten years?
Yeah. I mean I buy new things like a MPC, but it's still basically the same. I'll be having no computer setup or 24 tracks and none of that Pro Tools. I don't have that thing yet.

Who taught you to use this equipment?
Me. I just taught myself. Just messing with things.

Reading the manuals?
No (laughs). Just messing with things. I mean, the basic yeah, but I don't read the whole manual. You read how to start, and that's it. Basic. Cause all those machines are the same. It's what you put into it.

Can you name the essential elements of a Madlib track?
Ahm, just some dirty ass loops, some dirty loops. Any type of sound. But you have to have like a certain drum pattern, I guess. But it all stems from records. It's always different. I just say the essential thing to have is your records and the equipment. And ideas. The ideas that I have in my head. Everybody's on their own special thing, you know what I'm sayin'? I'm just trying to make good music, whether it's Hip-Hop, Reggae, Soul or whatever. That's what people have to understand: I'm not just Hip-Hop, I'm just good music.

Can you explain how you trained your ears for producing music?
I think my parents and my grandparents trained my ears, 'cause they showed me different types of music. They showed me like Jazz, Soul, Classical, my mother showed me Rock and…

On purpose?
'Cause they liked every type of music. They are musicians also. My mother wrote my fathers music, my uncle was a jazz musician and this and that, so… They just showed me all these different things, so I knew all these other types of music before Hip-Hop.

And they wanted you to become a musician?
No, they just knew I like music and they showed me different music. I don't think they wanted me to become a musician. But that's what happened. (laughs). Hard life. (laughs again quite intensively.)

Did you ever invite some of your family members to the studio?
Naw, I'm like a hermit. I'm on my own shit. Like the black sheep, I'm just on my own shit. I'm by myself, always. I'm not really doing all this mingling with people. I'm like always zonin' out. Meditating and shit. I'm on my own shit. I was always doing my own thing, you know what I'm sayin'?

When did you get professionally into music?
1996. And my father put out my first 12-inch, Lootpack "Psych Move".

Was that right after you finished school or…
I mean I was serious the whole time, but I didn't get to get a record out until '96. I was serious since like '87. But I didn't get anything out till like '93: The Alkaholiks. But my own stuff I didn't get out till '96, you know what I'm sayin'?

Did you go on tour with your father or your uncle when you were a kid?
Naw, I was always in the studio with my father. That's why I like being in the studio so much, 'cause he always had me up in there. Just watchin' 'em do their thing. That's how I learned. His stuff was with a whole band, my stuff is just me. He was a main singer. My mother wrote all his music.