For starters, Madlib is not Quasimoto. The ferocious beatholic, jazz guru and Loop Digga known as Madlib may have been the sole progenitor of the furry, aardvark-like creature who raps about astro-travellin’ and galactic shootouts, but the similarities end there.
“Quasimoto is an alien,” he says, pausing briefly for effect. “It’s not me at all. It’s just a day in the life of someone having fun.That just came about because I was in the studio by myself. People liked it. I didn’t even think it would get out.” But get out it did, leaving the world to ponder exactly what this maddeningly ad-libbing genius has wrought upon the world. To scratch their heads at his ability to conjure something new, something twisted, something that feels like a revelation to his legions of fans-all out of this tired beast called hip-hop.
Still, questions remain. If there is a real Madlib, then why doesn’t he stand up and claim his rightful title as the it beat conductor-of this year and most likely the next? Why does he instead masquerade himself, first as an indie-rap marauder (the Oxnard-based posse known as Lootpack), then as a neo-jazz aggregate (Yesterday’s New Quintet), only to resurface as cult rapper/producer (in collaborations with the equally elusive MF Doom and Jay Dee), before returning to the realm of the grotesque and the bizarre? (He’s just completed the follow-up to Quasimoto’s 2001 psychedelic stoner fantasy The Unseen.)
“That’s something I don’t even think about. I just make music that I like-first. I might feel like doing this jazz song, later I’ll be in my ‘beat’ phase, later I’ll do some hip-hop.. it just depends. I don’t wanna be bored.”
But why should we believe him? After all, this is the same Otis Jackson, Jr. whose musical pedigree is nothing short of intimidating – a father who fronted a jazz band, a folk/blues songwriter mother (Sinesca Jackson) and the tendency to work with world-renowned musicians like trumpeter Jon Faddis. And then, of course, Blue Note Recordings-long considered the mecca of jazz labels, forever trying to create something new out of a genre that so many consider to be as focused on its past as Mahler symphonies or Italian opera-entrusted him with the keys to their vault, expecting him to manufacture a long-overdue, by-the-numbers homage to the greats. Instead, he handed them Shades of Blue, which in addition to extricating the delightful ditties of Hancock and Byrd from oblivion, demonstrated to many why Madlib is considered the pacesetter of hip-hop nouveau. And why not? His beats are uncluttered, but never basic. The range of source material he samples is sweeping without being kitschy. He has no single gimmick, trademark or identifiable routine.
If Madlib is aware of the exalted fervor surrounding his work, you wouldn’t know it from talking to him, unless, another one of his veneers also happens to be flippant Machiavellianism. When he’s cornered into making some cookie-cutter denouncement of mainstream rap politics, he brushes it off, pointing out that common sense often prevails over cut-and-dry aesthetics.
“I don’t even look at it like underground and mainstream, somebody made those terms up. There’s good music and there’s bad music. I’m just trying not to compromise with that radio shit.”
So what does he compromise himself with? Girls, clothes, movies, drinkin’ wit the homies? Most definitely. If you look closely at the cover art of The Unseen, you’ll see vivid examples of those things one might usually associate with a pedestrian existence. An alien who walks among us, cops our blunts, chortles at our soap operas, carouses our women – an ordinary alien. It may not be Madlib, per se, but even if it’s merely the product of his gifted, twisted imagination, you can’t help but connect the dots. Madlib is Quasimoto. The only difference is that while one just chills, the other is on to the next thing-the ever-mutating Madlib, ever-elusive of the cut-and-dry, shaking off definitions with a mighty shrug, leaving the rest of us to pick up personas along the madcap trail he’s blazing.