Madlib interview in The Wire

Madlib interview in The Wire

"The Crate Mass Experiment"

  • July 15, 2009

This is an excerpt from Wire's cover story on Madlib from their Aug. 2009 issue, which is available now. Check out for information about this issue, an MP3 exclusive of Madlib's Summer Suite, or a digital edition of the magazine at

Prepare for a new yesterday, advises Madlib the former Lootpack MC who digs deep into his mental record crate to produce the wayward hip-hop of Quasimoto and the sample-libraries of Beat Konducta. Lisa Blanning hears about virtual one-man jazz bands, collaborations with J Dilla and Melvin Van Peebles, and his attempts to curate the past for music lovers of tomorrow. Photography by Jeremy & Claire Weiss

"My computer?" echoes Madlib incredulously. "I never use a computer. It's too easy. It's not easy to sound like Dilla, but you can make beats like Dilla with your computer, so that's why everybody sounds like Dilla." Madlib is in the middle of a European tour giving a rare interview - his first, in fact, since 2006. As we sit in his East London hotel room, I'm reminded that I'm talking to a man who doesn't use the internet or email. "You gotta look me in the eye," he explains. "That's why people start arguing. You can be bold while you're typing."

Otis Jackson Jr - producer, rapper, musician, crate-digging antiquarian - was born in 1973 and raised in Oxnard, California, 60 miles west of his current base of Los Angeles. We can get a glimpse of what life in suburban Oxnard must have been like from Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez's Love And Rockets comic books (Los Bros Hernandez are also from Oxnard, and many of their narratives are set there at the time young Otis was growing up). However, Madlib's lineage immediately set him apart. Born into a family of musicians, including his father Otis Senior, a vocalist, bandleader and studio player, mother Sinesca, a songwriter and guitarist, and his uncle, jazz trumpeter Jon Faddis, he was exposed to the secret workings of music recording from an early age.

From such auspicious beginnings, Madlib has become one of the most diverse and prolific artists in hip-hop. He made his underground cross-genre breakthrough as his wayward, apocryphal alter-ego Quasimoto; and his other major projects include Beat Konducta's curated collections of MC tools; his one- man virtual jazz band Yesterdays New Quintet and its spin-oils, in which he contributes drums, keyboards, bass and vibraphone; and his collaborations with the late J Dilla (Jaylib) and MF DOOM (Madvillain). Madlib's work traverses modern-day hip-hop to an extent that few can claim, and his crate-digging has reached such depths as to make him a veritable crate in himself, providing others with scores of tracks to help construct their own tunes. Yet for all the success his workaholism has brought him, he is a reticent public figure. "I hate standing in front of a crowd and having to show myself," he admits. "I'm a background dude."