“I’m sad that all those people had to die,” says Otis Jackson Jr., known to hip-hop purists as Madlib. It’s only days after the attack on the World Trade Center and the LA trackmaster is sitting at the usually bustling Electric Lotus Indian restaurant. Today, the place is almost empty. “It’s about to go down worse than that,” Madlib warns. “This type of stuff has been predicted in books.”
While foretelling the future isn’t a usual preoccupation for rappers – well, most rappers – there’s nothing typical about Madlib or his music. His most recent release, Yesterday’s New Quintet: Angles Without Edges, released in September, is a 19-track fusion of sounds. All instruments were played by Madlib. The result is an obscure jazz/soul/hip-hop collection that leaves you either awed or confused.
The 28-year-old producer is the first to admit his music isn’t for everyone and likens himself to jazz giants Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane. “In their time, they were trying to put their point across and didn’t get a lot of recognition. That’s how my music is going to be.”
And he may be right. Angles Without Edges is Madlib’s second solo album and he has yet to gain mainstream visibility. Last year he released his first solo Joint, The Unseen, under the alias Quasimoto.
The record, consisting of his signature beats and high-speed vocals (think Jay-Z on helium), earned the beat-maker a cult following. Even a few LA radio IDJs were known to slip in some Quasimoto between Ja Rule and Snoop Dogg.
But even before Madlib was touted by many critics as one of the underground’s more promising artists, he was producing for Cali rap collective the Lootpack. The group’s debut album, Soundpieces: Da Antidote! (1998), was recorded in Madlib’s hometown of Oxnard, California, just north of LA.
With the exception of local gangsta rap, there wasn’t a hip-hop scene in Oxnard, so, according Madlib, “we created it,” referring to his fellow Lootpack members Jack and DJ Romes. Soon, the Lootpack’s first single caught the attention of fellow producer and Stones Throw label owner Peanutbutter Wolf, who offered the group a deal in that same year. (Madlib copped a solo deal from Wolf in ’98 as well.)
Nowadays, staying true to his persona, Madlib spends more time in the studio and taking care of his 5-year-old daughter, Baby D, than worrying about why he’s not appealing to the masses. “I make music from the heart,” he concludes. “If you like it, you like it. If not, that’s cool.”