In the future, music will have been divided into so many varieties of sub-genres that there will no longer be names for them all, and they’ll be referred to simply as “music.” At that time no one will care any longer whether Otis Jackson, Jr. is a producer, rapper, remixer or whatever, and they’ll just call him a “musician.” Creating records at a prodigious clip, the man known as Madlib, Quasimoto and Yesterday’s New Quintet (a five-piece jazz band where he played all the parts) seems intent to break do style barriers as quickly as he turns out mixes i.e., every day.
At live shows you always test the audience on their knowledge of jazz. Do kids who listen to hip hop now know the roots of the music?
MADLIB: Nah, that’s why I always try to bring it up. I didn’t know either until somebody told me. When I was younger my grandparents showed me, so I knew jazz music before I knew hip hop music. I like all types of music, from jazz to psychedelic rock. I say the names out loud so that maybe it will click in their heads or something, and then they’ll go check it out.
What psych bands do you like?
M: Shit, I like Soft Machine, Gentle Giant, Electric Lucifer… all of that weird stuff. I’ve got crates of psych and prog-rock…
Where do you get all of your stuff?
M: I travel to Japan, and they’ve got everything. Anything that you’re looking for, they have, because they bought all of that stuff back in the ’70s. Also I travel around the States whenever I have a show and just start shopping. I don’t go to a city without going to a record store.
Do you bring a portable record player with you when you go out digging?
M: Nah, that’s weird. I just go off of the feeling or how it looks and I’m usually right. I just look at the instruments and the musicians on the back…
You go off of the cover of the record?
M: I sometimes buy records just for the covers. The music might not be too good but I’ll put up the cover. I’m a record collector also. So I don’t just buy records to sample them – I study music as well.
How did you first get into record collecting?
M: My pops. I stole my first collection from him. My pops was an R&B singer, so he had all types of music from Moody Blues to whatever. It opened me up to all types of new music.
Did your relatives predict that you would end up in music?
M: Yeah, they knew, because I was always in the studio with my Pops when I was small. That’s why I always love being in the studio so much. When all my brothers and sisters were going out playing, I would go to the studio and sit there and watch the engineer or the arranger and just see how they were doing it or whatever. So I was into it from the beginning.
Because you’re not only a producer, but also a DJ, an MC and a musician, how do you prioritize the importance of each strength?
M: Number one is producing music. Whether it is hip hop or jazz, I look at it all the same. Because, well, like today… I woke up and did a few beats for my beat tape. An hour later I was tired of doing hip hop, so I moved onto doing jazz. It’s all just different moods. I’m kind of schizophrenic, and I get bored quick, so I have to keep constantly moving on to the next thing. I don’t just listen to one thing per day, I just have so much to listen to.
What would you be doing if you were not making music?
M: God, I don’t know. Probably have a regular job or be stressing on the street doing something that I ain’t supposed to do, like my other homies. Luckily music can save your soul, and you can be in tune with more of yourself.
Your mythical unearthed beat-tapes are something of legend. Is it true that you will spend a day remixing an artist’s entire catalogue?
M: Most of my beats are freestyle, like the way a rapper freestyles. I just take whatever I have and make something out of it. Even when people listen to a record and are like, ‘There ain’t nothing on here,’ I just take it and make what I can with it. I mean, it’s just sounds anyway.
Are you still recording all analogue?
M: It’s a mixture. I keep my jazz analogue. But it depends. I mean, I still use my SP-12 and I’ve got an MPC-4000, but what I like the most is my little 303. A $200 machine, and I’ve done everything on that. So that shows you that you don’t need all of this other stuff.
The vastness of your output is still being seen on an underground level. Do you feel slighted by the industry?
M: Nah, I make music for me and my people’s health. Just good music to hear. I don’t really think too much about critics, because I can’t even explain my stuff half of the time. They can think what ever they want about it. I know how I feel about it.
How many of your projects will the public most likely never hear?
M: I don’t know, really. I do about a project a day so if you think about it… there is a lot to still be heard. I have a Quasimoto records coming out this next year, and there are several jazz records that are done because I’ve had to document everything that I’ve done. People heard the Stevie (Wonder remix) record but there is also George Duke, Azymuth, Roy Ayers and Herbie Hancock…So I really would not know.
With all of your different aliases, why no Madlib solo album?
M: It’s coming. They had been asking me to do it for a long time, and I really didn’t want to. But this time I felt ready for it. You see, rapping is not my first love. It’s cool, but it’s not the first thing I like to do. I like to do beats. I’m a studio man. It goes from producing to DJing to rapping.
Miles Davis had said that the only people he could work with had to be a little ‘off.’ Is that the same with you?
M: Yeah, they are probably the realest cats. There is no façade and you’re just dealing with the person. If they’re a little out there then that is how they are. You sample so many old black comics, from Redd Fox to Blowfly.
Would you ever sample the stuff of today?
M: Oh yeah, I already sampled the Dave Chappelle shit. But I always sample the old stuff like Rudy Ray Moore first.
Are there any records that you can’t live without?
M: David Axelrod’s Songs of Innocence… The Arthur Verocai album I could listen to everyday for the rest of my life. Anything by Charles Stepheny. Hip hop-wise Mecca and the Soul Brother from Pete Rock and CL Smooth. Rock- wise, this group Nektar.
Do you feel that music is therapeutic?
M: Fo’ sho’! Just ask Horace Silver – he’s doing music for hospitals right now. Probably helping out the patients, healing them with chords and sounds. I really believe it. Music can save your soul.