Shades of Blue: Madlib Invades Blue Note is a unique project that turns over the legacy of the esteemed Blue Note jazz label to one of hip-hop's most unique artists, Madlib, aka Otis Jackson, Jr.
Madlib's ability to absorb his influences and reinterpret them in new forms makes him the quintessential artist for a project of this conception. He is considered to be one of hip-hop's most inventive visionaries. Those who know the enigmatic artist confess he is a quiet personality, but what Madlib doesn't reveal in public, he expresses absolutely in the studio – as a very prolific rapper, producer and DJ. Working diligently on music at all hours of the day, he employs any number of MC and production guises.
Madlib first came to prominence as an MC in the hip-hop trio, Lootpack. That group's debut album in 1999, Soundpieces: Da Antidote, released on Madlib's home, Stones Throw Records, received much acclaim – by critics, who praised it as a surprising indie hip-hop triumph, and by artists such as D'Angelo and The Roots' Questlove, who hailed it as their favorite album of the year.
As an MC, Madlib's rhymes are smart, visual and oddly poetic. He sees the world as if he were in a perpetual state of psychedelia, and his crafty verses reflect that kaleidoscopic perspective. His production acumen reflects the same – which makes Madlib's scope as an artist unparalleled in hip-hop.
Madlib draws from jazz, funk, Brazilian, rock and any other genre whose rhythms and melodies enchant him. His work for his own projects (e.g., Lootpack, Quasimoto, Madlib Invazion), for other Stones Throw artists (e.g., Dudley Perkins, Wildchild), and other contemporaries (e.g., remixes for Bilal, Zero 7) all reflect his quirky, patchwork musical sensibility. Madlib seems to balance the essence of the music he samples with a very knowing sense of a hip-hop beat, often times making music that sounds simultaneously classic and contemporary. Combined with his own abilities to play many instruments, his body of work yields a rich tapestry of sound.
The key is indeed the balance, Madlib says. "Just trying to connect with the old heads and the young heads at once. But it's not thought out like that. I do the music I want to hear."
Sometimes, both the rhymes and beats combine to transcend a simple project, as with the Quasimoto album, The Unseen, released in 2000. As Madlib's alter-ego, Quasimoto is a fictional creature whose rhymes are unmistakably those of Madlib but they're delivered via a nasally, high-pitched, studio-tweaked flow. The beats are just as animated, thrusting soul-jazz, funk bits and psychedelic rock into a vibrant hip-hop fantasy world. It reveals Madlib as an unparalleled hip-hop imagineer.
Under the moniker Yesterday's New Quintet, Madlib unfurled new perspectives on a genre of music that is true to his heart: jazz. Madlib is the nephew of Jon Faddis, the respected jazz trumpeter who has played as a soloist and with Dizzy Gillespie and Charles Mingus. From a very young age, Madlib developed a sophisticated ear for music and jazz in particular. YNQ is his "modern" jazz project, comprised of five fictional players but really guided on all fronts by Madlib himself, using a sampler, drum machine and live instruments.
If Madlib seems prodigious in the studio, he is. Recently, he released Blunted in the Bomb Shelter, a DJ-ed mix-CD of reggae jams from the vast Trojan Records catalog. Upcoming projects include, the debut album from Wildchild, which Madlib co-produced; the soon to be legendary Dudley Perkins album, which Madlib produced; Jaylib, a collaboration project with hip-hop producer Jay Dee; and Mad Villain, an already acclaimed collaboration with MF Doom, an MC and producer perhaps as enigmatic as Madlib.
Madlib Invades Blue Note
The idea for Shades of Blue: Madlib invades Blue Note was generated by the esteemed jazz imprint and Stones Throw Records head, Peanut Butter Wolf, both of whom were inspired by Madlib's YNQ project. Shades of Blue isn't just a Blue Note cover album, it's a re-imagination of the Blue Note culture.
Madlib draws from the label's music catalog, of course, but also its influence through the years, its history as a prestigious jazz house, the iconography associated with the label and its import on its own.
Madlib covers some of his favorite songs from the Blue Note collection, which he cites as being influential to his development. "People say Blue Note was just a phase in hip-hop," Madlib explains, referring to the era when groups like A Tribe Called Quest and Gang Starr would sample the label's sounds. "But music is either good music or bad music and I still listen to Blue Note. I still love it."
Some tracks like Donald Byrd's "Steppin' Into Tomorrow" are longtime favorites of his, and he considered their inclusion in this project as a no-brainer. On that song, Madlib gives an already funky tune a voluptuous hip-hop bump. On "Please Set Me At Ease," Madlib rigs a Bobbi Humphrey song into a groovy, soulful beat for rapper Medaphor to rhyme over. Horace Silver's "Song For My Father" was more personal. Not only has it been an everlasting favorite but he says it's his dedication to his own father, notable 70s soul singer, Otis Jackson, Sr.
Shades of Blue also includes a new song, "Funky Blue Note," that Madlib conceived as his ode to his favorite era of the label – the 1960s and 1970s. "I just wanted to show my side of understanding the music and bringing the same kind of sound," he says. "That's the sound I like from Blue Note. You were just free to do whatever ideas you wanted to do."
The convergence of Madlib and Blue Note on this special project transcends the legacies and reputations of both entities. It's a special convocation . Alfred Lion and Francis Wolf would be proud.