Wednesday, September 17, 2008

MADVILLAIN: Madvillainy 2: The Madlib Remix

Madvillain - Madvillainy 2: The Madlib Remix
Madvillainy was a perfect meeting of the minds: Not only were Madlib and DOOM both contributing work that ranks among the best they’ve done to date, but they proved to be an impeccable pairing. This might not be a surprise, as each man’s affinity for developing a new conceptual alter-ego for just about every project is matched only by their shared propensity for smoking marijuana. What the Madvillain project proved, however, was how parallel they are musically, particularly in how comfortable each man is with an unpolished, rhythmic looseness. Usually eschewing computers for manually-controlled samplers, they both employ a production style miles away from the pro-tools beatmapping and rigid drum-machines of slick aristo-rap. (For reference, see DOOM’s series of Special Herbs releases and Madlib’s Beat Konducta series.) Their rapping is similar as well: DOOM uses irregular meters and rhyme schemes, hovering around the beat with an Ornette Coleman flow that refuses to be tied too closely to the ones and twos. Madlib, as the helium-voiced rap cartoon Quasimoto, mumbles his lyrics in short, irregular spurts.

As musically kindred as they are, and even though I think Madlib is the better producer and DOOM is the better rapper, I’d love to see a record that switches their roles, backing baked Quasimoto raps with DOOM’s Metal Fingers production.

That would have been an interesting approach to the long- (and anxiously-) awaited follow-up to their sole album-length collaboration, but what we got instead was a Madlib remix of the first record. It may not be fair to think of this as the proper follow-up; maybe Madvillain 1 ½ would have been a better title, but DOOM’s increasingly erratic behavior/chicanery doesn’t bode well for a return the prolific release schedule one enjoyed by fans of the metal-faced villain, so it may be quite some time before we get completely new Madvillain music.

So what we have here is 51 minutes (that’s a longer running-time than the original) of hallucinatory sonic weirdness, the bulk of which is made up of DOOM’s vocals from the original Madvillainy (plus Madvillain’s non-album cut “Monkey Suite” and one vocal from DOOM’s collaboration with Danger Mouse) set to all new Madlib beats. In between, there’s more non-sequiter audio-collage than usual, even for a Madlib production. Production-wise, this resembles Quasimoto’s Unseen more closely than any other Madlib Invasion.

The charge that DOOM’s rapping is too disassociated from the accompanying beats, (a charge I myself made when I first heard him, before I warmed up to his approach,) is, paradoxically, refuted by the disassociation between the vocals and the beats on many of the tracks here, as compared with their counterparts on the original album. In their original context, these vocals were nestled into the music with an uncanny, psychedelic energy, correlating to Madlib’s samples in unconventional, but brilliant ways. Here, however, they sound detached. Maybe (if you don’t mind me acknowledging my own subjectivity), this is in part because I know how this album was made, with vocals ripped from their original setting with tempos stretched to match new instrumentation, but even a blind listen-test (for which finding a guinea pig is probably impossible, because anyone who’s on board with DOOM’s loose-rhythm flow has probably heard the original album) would reveal an awkward incongruity.

Madlib is an excellent producer, (my favorite in hip-hop) and one would think he’d be able to overcome obstacles like these. Maybe it’s me; maybe my affinity and familiarity with the original makes me too loyal to it, too unwilling to accept a redux. (Another subjectivity alert!) For example, “Borrowed Time” replaces the “Accordian” beat with an ominous airiness that I would love under other circumstances, but when I hear the lyrics, it’s hard not to miss the original production. If these instrumentals had new vocals from DOOM, I think I would like this almost as much as the first Madvillain release, maybe more, depending on the quality of DOOM’s contribution.

Some moments still work. “Invasion (Interlude)”, a 90-second instrumental, would have fit right in on Beat Konducta Vol. 1. Perhaps owing more to the shortcomings of the original, “Drainos” is a success, repurposing DOOM’s regrettable singing from “Rainbows“ and layers it over a less tonal backdrop, actually improving on the original track. “Running Around With Another” avoids sounding like a remix, and would have been a highlight on the original.

The original Madvillainy was a grower, so maybe in time I’ll like this more. As it stands, I think it’s a good, but not great follow-up.

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