April 8, 2004

Test Spin: Madvillain

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Prophesying the future of rap, Nas once summarized his musical foes in one rhyme: “It’s becoming unbearable / Making hits is easy / Put a famous bitch on the hook there you go with a platinum CD.” Thankfully, a new superhero has arrived on the scene to save hip-hop fans from Ja Rule/Ashanti collaborations and Pharrell’s ragged falsetto. In the best partnership since Rodgers and Hammerstein, MF Doom joins forces with beatmaster extraordinaire Madlib to create Madvillain, a modern deadly duo fighting mediocrity one genre at a time. Madvillainy constructs a brilliant, heady blend of ancient sitcom themes, orchestral swells, comic book villains, and the coolest samples this side of DJ Jazzy Jeff.

Visualize GZA spitting over Avalanches’ “Frontier Psychiatrist” and you have “Curls.” Twilight Zone-organs merge with Caribbean steel drums while MF Doom rhymes about money, cash, and hoes indie-rap style: “Reckless naked girls get necklaces of pearls … Showing up to class with Moet in a flask / Doom get the cash.” Ending the track, Madlib overtakes Doom’s voice with a keyboard riff strange enough to make Ennio Morricone jealous. Like all of Madvillain’s songs, the melody goes down smooth while remaining discordant and lo-fi.

Madvillain succeeds by avoiding excess. Most of the songs last ninety seconds with one long verse and no chorus. The beats are eclectic but raw, and Doom’s voice assaults the mix with controlled recklessness and sublime reflection. Madvillain’s first, and possibly last, album transcends stereotypical hip-hop by embracing rap’s original essence: creativity and style.

Archived article by Will Lanier
Red Letter Daze Staff Writer