I swear to the sweet baby Jesus, if I see one more HipHopDX reader posting the words “What does this have to do with hip-hop?!” in the comments section, I’ll erupt with Vesuvian velocity and unleash my laptop’s unholy wrath to stomp a figurative mudhole in their ignorant ass. If you don’t understand the origins and evolution of a genre that is the culmination of hundreds of years of African-American cultural history, then sit down, shut up and try opening your earhole instead of your piehole for once while I break it down for you. Then and only then will you grasp why Madlib’s latest Yesterdays New Quintet release is as important to hip-hop culture as anything 2Pac or Biggie ever recorded.
It all began with the drum. In Africa, the drum was sacred and ceremonial. Its rhythms provided the foundation for songs about everything from history and current events to rites of passage and communication with the ancestors. When slaves were taken to the Caribbean, South America and the “new world” that became known as the United States of America and denied their musical instruments, they took to singing in time with their work as they chopped trees and hammered spikes for the railroads that would speed the progress of America’s industrial revolution. Spirituals such as Wade in the Water not only gave birth to gospel music, they also spurred the anti-slavery resistance as a subtle form of rebel music.
From a blend of African folk music and gospel emerged the blues, and from the blues emerged jazz, then rock ‘n’ roll, all of which were initially repudiated as sinful by the white establishment’s elders only to be embraced by its youth. Visionaries such as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, James Brown and Herbie Hancock began to blur the lines dividing the disparate musical genres of the African-American diaspora, and as funk gave birth to disco, the early seeds of hip-hop’s roots were sown.
So what does all this have to do with Madlib, the next-level producer behind critically acclaimed projects such as Lootpack, Quasimoto, Jaylib, Madvillain and Talib Kweli’s Liberation? Well, on the surface, this album of true school jazz tunes recorded by the multi-instrumentalist mastermind behind the Yesterdays New Quintet moniker has nothing whatsoever in common with the modern hip-hop scene. There are no Jeep-thumping beats, no catchy choruses, not even a single rhyme to speak of. Instead, the artist formerly known as Otis Jackson Jr. offers up his distinctively stylish take on jazz classics such as Miles’ Bitches Brew and Bebeto’s Barumba alongside original tracks that have no problem measuring up in comparison. From the piano-driven swing of One For the Monica Lingas Band and the blaxploitation funk of Street Talkin’ to the African percussion and spaced-out sounds of Vibes From the Tribes Suite, this album is more tailored to fans of Sun Ra than Sa-Ra, encapsulating several hundred years of African-American musical history in a concise 15 tracks. And if fans of Weezy, Jeezy and their ilk don’t get its relevance to hip-hop culture, it’s only because they haven’t been paying fucking attention.