The Madlib Mystique – An exclusive interview with underground hip-hop's most elusive producer, written by Jeff Weiss, and published in LA Weekly, June 24, 2010.
Madlib is nowhere to be found. Peanut Butter Wolf, the head of his label, Stones Throw, doesn't know where he is. Despite repeated phone calls, Eothen (Egon) Alapatt, the imprint's general manager, hasn't heard back in 48 hours. J. Rocc, one of his best friends, is baffled too. They were supposed to have gone record shopping yesterday, but "shit came up." Currently, Madlib is missing the rare interview appointment, but the unexpected is expected. So long as he turns up around Memorial Day, a few hours before his flight to Copenhagen for a potential collaboration four days from now, no one's about to put out an Amber Alert.
After all, it might not be clear who to look for. There's Otis Jackson Jr., the government name of the Oxnard-born "Beat Konducta," a man so enigmatic and elusive his own brother gave him the alias "Hollow Man." You could check for one of the members of his fictional jazz ensemble, Yesterdays New Quintet: Ahmad Miller, Monk Hughes, Malik Flavors or Joe McDuphrey. Or maybe you'd inquire about Quasimoto, his helium-voiced, psilocybin-propelled alter ego. Of course, Lord Quas couldn't keep clandestine long — he's loud, prone to branding himself "America's Most Blunted," and the only person Madlib claims he doesn't get along with. But they do share one thing — like Quasimoto's debut-album title, they are "the unseen."
Speculating on Madlib's whereabouts is futile. Forget Twitter — he doesn't even use e-mail. The interstellar infinity of his music indicates liberation from the limitations of gravity and time. Granted, he exists as blood and marrow: two children, lives in a real home in Eagle Rock, and the Gregorian Calendar claims that he's 36. However, he is best understood as myth. In a society with a vampiric lust for information, our primitive neuroprocessors still compute in archetypes. Madlib is the man who wears masks, the witch doctor, the star of the medicine show.
It's possible that the absence is due to personal business, or to something wholly pedestrian. But it's unwise to rule out the possibility that he's been abducted and is currently circling the constellations like his jazz analogue Sun Ra, or washing dishes in the same speakeasy where Malcolm X waited tables (if you're to believe his official Stones Throw bio). Most likely, he'll emerge from this fugue with several finished albums, several more finished blunts and without an explanation for his adventures. But no explanation is needed. We're dealing with Madlib and when you're dealing with Madlib, you quickly realize that you're going to have to fill in the blanks.
BLUNTED IN THE (NEW) BOMB SHELTER (THREE MONTHS PRIOR)
The Loop Digga's Hideaway is located on the top floor of what used to be a Masonic temple — a neo-Renaissance revival façade with weathered red-brick walls and a faded gray frieze studded with pentagrams and the Masonic square and compass. A Mexican bakery occupies the ground floor and the sweet smell of pan de leche and pastel del queso colors the air as you ascend the dimly lit stairwell leading to the top floor. Midway through, the scent abruptly shifts, blossoming into a danker, pungent aroma, offering a different indulgence.
At the top floor, you discover Madlib, the Loop Digga himself, wearing a black skully hat, baggy blue jeans and a pinball-sized silver ring — surrounded by samplers, CDs, cassette decks, 4- and 8-track recorders, keyboards and drum kits. No computers. Instead there are records stacked so high they seem like obelisks. A collection described by J. Rocc as filled with the most "dirty and dusty LPs imaginable." Not just hip-hop, jazz and soul. Everything from witchcraft records and Detroit techno to obscure German Krautrock. Calling Madlib a crate-digger is like describing Albert Ayler as a saxophone player — barely accurate. Madlib doesn't just collect records, he revolutionizes them. And the thousands of albums crammed into the three-room space aren't some completist fetish, they're functional tools.
Everyone can listen to music, but Madlib's ears detect alternate frequencies. He's a ghost-whisperer summoning analog ancestors — a ferocious Bootsy Collins bass line, a Mario Van Peebles film clip, a half-bar Hugh Masekela horn blast, an extemporaneous Redman ad-lib, a funky-but-forgotten Mantronix drum break. A mad scientist breaking beats down to their molecular level, seamlessly stitching loops and reshaping them into something with preternatural groove.
"He has records from almost every nation," says his frequent collaborator, hard-boiled Detroit rapper Guilty Simpson. "He doesn't just buy them to sample. He wants to understand each song. He doesn't need to know the language to realize musicality."
The only constant is that he's constantly working. Some days, he'll make a single beat, others he'll fill up an entire CD-R. In 2010, there are plans to release 16 albums, but that's a conservative estimate. There are 12 volumes of Madlib's Medicine Show: half original music, half mixtapes (Brazilian Tropicalia, African-psych reggae, prog-rock, jazz, soul). Additionally, he has produced entire albums for Guilty Simpson and Strong Arm Steady, plus two jazz records — one under the guise Young Jazz Rebels, the other as the Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz and Percussion Ensemble.
So it's understandable that Earl Grey and scones aren't rolled out to any iPad hack with a blog. "Interviews are my least favorite thing to do," he says politely, constantly rifling through records, while resisting reductive analysis. This is his first American interview since 2006, because he has better things to do — engulfed in a ceaseless surge of creativity, sleeping only two or three hours a night and fueled by coffee and Lucas Valley OG, the strain of medical marijuana he's currently incinerating. Should the fumes become too tantalizing, he will offer both weed and Swisher Sweets for you to roll your own.
SHOW NO.1: BEFORE THE VERDICT
MEDICINE SHOW NO.2: FLIGHT TO BRAZIL
MEDICINE SHOW NO.3: BEAT KONDUCTA IN AFRICA
MEDICINE SHOW NO.4: 420 CHALICE ALL-STARS
MEDICINE SHOW NO.5: HISTORY OF THE LOOP DIGGA, 1990-2000
MEDICINE SHOW NO.6: THE BRAIN WRECK SHOW