Hip hoppers have recently taken to remaking their personae in ways even more outlandish than usual for a music where identity is paramount. But while most rappers’ aliases serve as amplifications of the more superhuman aspects of their creators’ imaginations, Quasimoto, the a.k.a. of the Oxnard, California, group Lootpack’s Madlib, achieves a more introspective end. Rather than following the lead of the RZA-as-Bobby Digital or of Kool Keith’s closetful of barely distinguishable guises, Madlib tweaks most of his vocals into a genderless nether region, which interacts with his natural voice like a dialogue between the rational mind and the slippery subconscious.
This transformation recalls less Madlib’s fellow rapping role-players than another black artist who has also been known to change his name around. In 1987 Prince recorded an unreleased, pseudonymous album titled Camille, his voice pitched up to an androgynous twitter and laid atop funk that sounded like it had seeped onto tape almost subliminally: tense synth lines, talking drum-machine beats, touches of Eastern psychedelia. (Much of the abandoned album would find its way onto Sign o’ the Times.) When Madlib’s helium-attenuated voice declares “Come on feet/Cruise for me” over a weirdly infectious rhythm track, the flashback to “Housequake” or “If I Was Your Girlfriend” is inevitable.