Blunted on Beats: Madvillain Interview in Wax Poetics
Interview: Eothen "Egon" Alapatt. Intro: Brian DiGenti Wax Poetics #8 February 08, 2004
Photos by B+ In a moment of clarity, Jay-Z might wanna rhyme like Common Sense, but nobody, even with generous charity, can rhyme quite like wordplayer MF DOOM, né Zev Love X. Like Nas and "Live at the BBQ," every great MC has a celebrated debut, and Zev Love represents on 3rd Bass's "The Gas Face," 1989. Let's zip to '93 blunted in infinity, for posterity, when Madlib of the Lootpack made his major production debut on wax, with Tha Alkaholiks, on "Mary Jane." Let's back up, and switch up, to a positive Kause in a Much Damaged society and get our gasface refilled. Zev Love and partner Subroc, aka KMD, follow up their 1990 classic 12-inch "Peachfuzz" with the 1991 full-length classic Mr. Hood, which is followed by a pair of Yo! MTV Raps trading cards. Fast-forward future, several 'Liks later, Madlib makes moves with Otis Sr.'s funds, releasing the now-classic and now-rare EP Psyche Move in 1996 on his own Crate Diggas Palace Records. Heads bobbed and ears perked, including those of Chris Manak, aka Peanut Butter Wolf, who offered the Lootpack crew a deal on his Stones Throw label. But let's backtrack to when deals get lost. KMD's second long-player, Black Bastards, wouldn't see the light of day if the industry had its way.
We all know the story of Zev Love X subsequently dropping out of sight to reinvent himself and reintroduce himself to the audiences of New York freestyle battles, trading his X cap for a chrome alloy mask. Bobbito Garcia, ever the humanitarian, made 1998 the year of the comeback, releasing KMD sides, including the EP Black Bastards Ruff + Rares on his Fondle 'Em Records. Same year, different coast, the Lootpack drop The Anthem EP, following it up with their long-player the next year. Back East with DOOM, we made room for his metal face debut, Operation: Doomsday.
And there lies the foundation. Just the beginning. A new day dawning. Not to pull cards ("celebrity" figures must be deconstructed, as a code of conduct followed by us critics), but Daniel Dumile and Otis Jackson Jr. reside behind masks and monikers-not to hide a smile or a smirk, but indeed to throw a monkey wrench to work one's clockwork. From Quasimoto to Viktor Vaughn, Yesterdays New Quintet to King Geedorah, the two have been amassing a stable of solid work since the turn of the new century. Madlib and DOOM are in league with powerful forces of the underground, the former with producer Jay Dee and colleagues Declaime (aka Dudley Perkins) and Wildchild; and the latter, the mad hatter, with producers Prince Paul, Prefuse 73, and the Herbaliser. DOOM continues to release his self-produced beats via the instrumental series Special Herbs. And Madlib won't rest, continuing to provide us with up-to-the-minute sounds, from his sublime Blue Note release to the brand new Free Design remix on Light in the Attic Records.
There was a loud bang about a year ago. Such a sonic boom could only mean the merging of forces of Madlib and DOOM. Like protons in a atom smasher traveling the speed of light until they finally hit head-on and explode, Madvillain was born out of many sparks. Whispered rumors of the partnership soon turned into greedy grabbing, as the demo tapes leaked out onto the Internet. And soon the project was put on hold. But it gave me time to infiltrate their shadowy network. Both Madilb and DOOM are extremely difficult figures to pin down, as they rarely leave their dark studios, peaking out only occasionally to scoop up supplies of blunts and pens placed by their doors by delivery men. Who better, I thought, to corner them on their own ground than an insider? A call was placed, and several months of planning and pushing later, I got Stones Throw manager and WAX POETICS contributor Eothen "Egon" Alapatt to go a few rounds with the duo.
After being burned and bootlegged in this difficult industry, it's finally time for Madlib and MF DOOM to transcend all barriers and float on. The following interview was written in cold blood with a toothpick.
EGON: Let me start off by saying to you both-because you're largely the reason I feel this way-this is a great time for rap music. Many people won't agree with me-there are those who argue that rap was at its most creative when it was first birthed. There are those who can't see beyond the golden age. But I honestly believe that right now we're at a point in rap music's lineage that mirrors late 1960s and early 1970s jazz. Rappers aren't scared to stretch into different bags. Experimentation is rampant. Genres are meshing together. It's taken a while to get to the point here, but it's a great time. Do you agree?
DOOM: No! [laughs]. I look at it like, any time you try to throw music into one category, it gets kind of mixed up. We do music for the love of it. If it happens to be considered hip-hop, you know, then let it be considered hip-hop. It would be raw regardless. Anytime you put boundaries like when you say, "This is a certain type [of music]," or you say, "Is this music crossing into [this] realm," [you realize] the line is so translucent. It's hard to categorize.
Are you saying that hip-hop has no boundaries? I think that while rap music has boundaries, hip-hop is destined to break those boundaries because of its very nature.
DOOM: Yo, back before the early '90s before KMD, back when motherfuckers were just spinning two records, [what became hip-hop] might have been considered soul. Until the cat hit the fader to the other side. When did it become hip-hop? Hip-hop, it's a matter of expression. How you do it. You know what I mean?
Interesting. Hip-hop grows-and grabs-from different musics, true. But I feel that now, hip-hop musicians can go back and put a new, honest spin on older musical forms. Like, for instance, your take on jazz music via Yesterdays New Quintet, O [Otis! Madlib].
DOOM: Exactly. That shit sounded so ill to me. Who's to say that ain't jazz, you know what I mean? It's a matter of your influence, and, like with Madlib, what he does with his hip-hop aura, you know?
O, do you agree with me? Take a second to consider what you're doing... you're creating jazz music with your Yesterdays New Quintet project. But you come from a hip-hop background. And it's not like you started out creating hip-hop and jazz music side by side-you slowly moved from one stage to the next.
MADLIB: But I came from everything. I started from listening to jazz when I was real young. My grandparents were into jazz; my parents showed me that stuff. I've always listened to soul. Old rock? My pops used to bump European stuff, or Gentle Giant... All this music was coming around at the same time. I listened to [disco and funk] too. I listened to everything. That's the point I'm going to make-they make me look like some jazz dude or something, but I'm into all kinds of music. All Black music. Mostly.
Remember when the Quasimoto album first dropped? It was hit with more than a fair share of negative criticism. It seems to me like it's taken a couple years for fans of music to generally acknowledge, "Oh, you know, that was a great record. That was a step in the right direction for rap music."
MADLIB: 'Cause they ain't used to stuff. They have to get used to it. They're used to that stuff they hear on... whatever they hear. Our stuff is just different. I guess that's how I was too, before I got used to certain types of music. I might not have liked jazz-at first. I was young, I don't know. But you have to get used to things. You're used to the radio? The radio only plays certain things. Some people hear my music and say, "Damn, I didn't even know people made music like that!" [So I] try to always do different things every time.
DOOM: Indeed so. I think it is a gradual progression. Even now, the state that this music is in-you say we infuse a lot of different genres [within it], but it would have got here anyway. It just so happens that we were blessed-born at the right time to be able to do it right now. We're just lucky to be here doing this, if I can speak for you, O.
MADLIB: Nah, that's it exactly. That is true.
Don't get me wrong. I acknowledge great steps for rap music along the way. There were always concept albums within hip-hop-like De La Soul Is Dead, for instance. Well executed. Near perfect. But it seems to me that what Y'all are doing now is in a completely different realm. A totally different approach to making a record. Like with Operation: Doomsday.... You became MF DOOM over the course of a few years, and, in that time, recorded a statement which captured that change. I can't imagine that happening in the early '90s The constraints rap musicians felt were different. But shit, you were there-tell me how you feel...
DOOM: I'm like this-I'm trying to top the last ill shit that a motherfucker did, you know? So I'm like, it's always going to evolve and get iller. De La had De La Soul IS Dead... That shit was ill. Even their first one, Three Feet High. . . That was real crazy. At the time it was cutting edge shit. If they didn't do that, it wouldn't even prompt us-well, I should say prompt me-to try to top that shit. I just try to top it. Whoever had the illest, most visual shit .... The people, who, when you listen to their album you can picture what they're doing, picture the scene, picture the painting. That's what I try to do. Paint a picture. I just try to keep up with the best of them.
And yourself it would seem. One thing that's impressive to me-about both of y'all- is that you haven't worn out your fans' attentions. You've made many albums, in many styles, under many different guises. All great pieces of work-a difficult feat to pull off. Historically, Clarence Reid was successful....
MADLIB: Eddie Bo .... There were a lot of people.
How do you avoid overexposure?
MADLIB: Always be different. Challenge yourself. Don't be scared to try new things. Once you get bored, challenge yourself to do something you wouldn't think you would do. You can always keep what you have...
DOOM: ... Yeah, but you can kill it on the next level. It's endless.
MADLIB: But even though you can go further, you have to stay with the essence. There's just too much music .... Hopefully I don't fizzle out. Fans [can be] finicky. You do something they don't like, it's over. So I realize that. But I'm going to still keep challenging myself. I just make music I want to hear. Hopefully other people will like what I do. But that's all I do. Whatever you hear, that I made, it's because I wanted to hear that. That's how I am with all my music, even though I may not think about it.
DOOM: ... It'll never run out. Same thing with the words. Sometimes it's challenging. With this particular album, Madvillain, I'm like, the way I approached it lyrically is that it was spontaneous. You were here, E, I was sitting right here. I'd just heard the beat-aight, bow!
MADLIB: Beats were spontaneous too. Freestyle beats. Whatever.
DOOM: Captured in there. You can feel it, in the music.
Some of the beats that ended up on the project-like the beat that became "Strange Ways" for instance-were made in your hotel room while we were in São Paulo in 2003, O. Using the 303 to sample from a portable turntable and mastering to a cassette deck.
MADLIB: Every beat on the project was made on the 303.
So let me clarify. When you say "beats were spontaneous," you mean: pick up a record-with no rhyme or reason behind your choice-sample a sound, move on, forget about the source, repeat?
MADLIB: Yeah. That's why a lot of the beats on 100 Beats [Madlib's two beat CDs, from which the majority of the Madvillain album was culled], you can't use, 'cause I'm just fucking around and freestyling. Some of 'em might be so way out, 'cause I'm just using what I have [in front of me]. Whatever. I don't remember the samples I use. Hell no.
You both record onto the small Roland digital boards. I know that you, O, track out beats for minutes at a time. And that you rarely save the parts to, your beats. You run sequences of them live, as you create them, into the board and discard the samples.
MADLIB: Exactly! You can save samples, with [an attachment for the 303] that you have to buy, but I don't go through all that hassle. [During the creation of the beats for Madvillain] I wasn't saving 'em. I'd lay the beat straight out. To two channels.
DOOM: Bow! It's done. "Here go two tracks, nigga .....
MADLIB: I just learned from Tha 'Liks mixing my shit, I don't want nobody messing with my shit. I seen how people tamper with other people's music. It's like how I do with other people's music. I don't want no one fucking my shit up, making, I don't know, a house version of "Curls"... You know? I seen what happens. I want to have my stuff out there as it's supposed to be.
DOOM: You know, "Nigga, you ain't changing my motherfucking beats." I learned from him too-that's a good way of doing it. Everything stays true [to what you created]. It makes a difference in the way the whole thing comes together. Say you have-the way we do it-straight two tracks and you send it to a motherfucker. Then they put their vocals atop of it. A motherfucker can have it all bassy. A motherfucker can turn the highs up-a little bit. But as long as it's gonna be the way you did it, the way that it was, it's stuck like that. You can't change the makeup of it.
No wonder you were able to work so well with his beats, DOOM-you understand his motivation for keeping his beats as he meant them to be heard.
DOOM: Yeah, sure. You could hear it? You could hear it. Put the rhyme over it, that's it. Vocal too loud? Turn it down. All that other stuff? Sugar coat. Extra. Totally extra. Stay focused. Cut and dry. The beat is dope, the rhyme dope? Record it, let everybody hear it.
Back to "Strange Ways" again-the beat slows down, speeds up, changes rhythm .... And there's no way you were going to get parts for that beat. Mastered directly to a cassette deck directly from the 303?!
MADLIB: I don't see how he flipped that. I never had an MC do that with [my beats]. Sick beat, sick lyrics, sick cuts...
DOOM: I'm glad you even hollered at me, O. I got a good colleague, made a good friend at the same time. We deal with the same sciences. Like meeting a brother I didn't even know I had till I'm damn near thirty!
MADLIB: That's true. Musically, me, him, Jay Dee... we're all chilling.
This is a portion of the Madvillain interview. For the entire article, purchase Wax Poetics #8 online: www.waxpoetics.com
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