If the essence of Hip Hop music is crate digging and chopping up samples in ways unheard before and the core of jazz is musical improvisation, then it’s clear that Otis Jackson Jr. aka Madlib is mastering both. Using samples as effortlessly as Pete Rock with the SP1200, layering sound upon sound and constructing mile-high beat sandwiches, Madlib has been fusing sounds into sense and earning respect as producer/emcee/musician for years. You’ll know a Madlib record when you hear it-each track can contain an entire history of Black music nestled underneath Quasimoto’s helium pitched rhymes, or venture out into Yesterday’s New Quintet’s realm, mirroring the sounds of Stanley Clarke, Sun Ra or perhaps Thelonious Monk. Madlib’s musical inclination didn’t come from out of nowhere. His father a renowned studio player, not to mention his mother, a blues musician, and uncle, trumpet man John Faddis, must have contributed a few music genes to Otis Jackson Jr. Visits to the studio with his family embedded his spiritual affinity to jazz early on as well. And though his hometown of Oxnard, California is not what you’d call a Hip Hop mecca, Madlib still found his way to it, joining up with like-minded individuals such as Wild Child and DJ Romes, his fellow Loot Pack comrades. Thus, the perfect blend of beat maker/jazz cat came to grow in Southern Cali-and continues to grow and become a mainstay in the fickle Hip Hop world.
With myriad production credits and collaborations Madlib might be the hardest working man in Hip Hop-and Jazz. As far as the evolution of his music and the constant birth of his alter egos go (i.e. Quasimoto, DJ Rels, Monk Hughs, Malik Flavors, Ahmad Miller, and Joe McDuffrey to name some), Madlib makes it clear that any attempts to label his sound whether strictly toward jazz, as he continues to produce YNQ projects or ‘underground’ Hip Hop are unwelcome, “everybody knew me as one thing” he says on a serious note, “but I never wanted to be labeled. I’ve always been changing like on some Quincy Jones thing–the sad thing is y’all label me by the stuff that’s come out.” The man literally works in the studio round the clock, reportedly without a bit of sleep, so you can bet he won’t be satisfied with just one name, title or even type of music. In commenting on his extensive discography as well, we haven’t heard the third of it. He’s made “hundreds of records that y’all haven’t heard. When you buy the records that come out, that’s not even my favorite stuff,” explains Madlib. Ideally he’d like to put out a record “every week.” And regardless of what the critics say, Madlib’s not really listening, not because he doesn’t appreciate accolades (he’s quick to tell you he’s glad to be receiving love), but because once the record’s been reviewed he’s already moved on and made like two more. Judging from the man’s track record, there’s pretty much nothing Madlib won’t experiment sonically, but whatever form his music takes you can guess jazz will be there along with Hip Hop sensibilities-whether overtly so or in the form of a an expertly used sample.
Madlib’s latest LP released in July, Monk Hughes and the Outer Realm’s “A Tribute to Brother Weldon: 1943-2002” an homage to the late Weldon Irvine, is the most recent commercial release of a series of YNQ tribute projects. This addition, inspired by the accomplished keyboardist who penned the lyrics and collaborated with Nina Simone on the seminal “Young Gifted and Black” and collaborated with Mos Def as well, takes off where the “Stevie” Album (2004) and Yesterday’s New Quintet’s 2001 release of “Angles without Edges” left off. Monk Hughes (read: Madlib) the bassist of YNQ, and the Outer Realm bring to the record 12 original tracks of experimental jazz that build into the most poetic YNQ release to date. The album was already in the works in early 2002 while Irvine was still living. After his tragic passing in April of 2002, Madlib headed straight to the studio and completed the record in “like, a day.” Madlib was especially struck hard by the passing since Irvine was a mentor and friend to him, as well as the “one that had told me to put the YNQ stuff out, he encouraged me, he used to be pumping me up”, Irvine as Madlib remembers, recognized the potential in Yesterday’s New Quintet before it released a record. “A Tribute to Brother Weldon” itself captures the progressive spirit of Black music of the 60s and 70s. Tracks like “A Piece for Brother Weldon” and “Keys” with thumping bass lines under vibes and electronic funk sound like African thunder rolling through outer space and are the perfect soundtrack for contemplating and staring off into the universe-whether weed induced or not.
Upcoming projects for Madlib will involve the people he “grew up listening to” and “like minded individuals”, he mentions collaborations with Pete Rock, Common, Busta Rhymes and De La Soul-who’s latest album includes some of his production-and additional tribute records including an homage to Roy Ayers and George Duke. In Madlib’s world where his “musical taste switches every five minutes” the possibilities are endless. On his personal life, Otis Jackson Jr. is tight lipped. Besides raising his daughter his time is spent in the studio making beats or searching for them; digging in the crates with kindred spirits like Jay Dilla or fellow Oxnard producer Kan Kick. Inspiration takes the form of “everything, different records that you listen to, people you hang out with, people you talk to, everything” even outer space. Like one of his musical inspirations, Sun Ra, Madlib is fascinated by other worldly things and deep spirituality, “Earth is cool” he says “but I’m interested in what’s beyond Earth” claiming to be part-alien, Madlib stays true to the image-semi hard to pin down and seemingly always in a far out mental space.
On his art and his career in general, Otis Jackson Jr. simply states “I just do what’s in my heart.” ‘Nuff said.