Wednesday, March 31, 2010
MADLIB: Medicine Show No. 3 – Beat Konducta In Africa
Other than his collaboration with DOOM (which sadly doesn’t seem to be an ongoing concern,) the Beat Konducta series is my favorite of Madlib’s projects. The format is perfect for his frantic work-ethic: a great big pile of hip-hop instrumentals, usually clocking in between ninety seconds and two minutes. For those who came in late, the first six volumes were released separately on vinyl and combined on two-for-one CDs. The first two (Movie Scenes) were an eclectic collection of beats based primarily on soul and funk, but with quite a few curveballs thrown in. The third and fourth volumes (Beat Konducta in India) used samples from Bollywood soundtracks, and the last two were tributes to the late J. Dilla, incorporating samples Dilla had used in his own productions and creating a sorrowful/celebratory vibe perfect for a musical eulogy. As the title suggests, this installment is (mostly) made from samples taken from African music. (The same sample of American composer Steve Reich’s “Come Out” used on the Madvillain album is used here as well, and if I had the encyclopedic knowledge to recognize everything, I’d imagine there are other non-African snippets.)
Occasionally, Beat Konducta beats will be recycled in extended form as backing tracks for rappers, but I prefer them in this blink-and-you’ll-miss-it channel-surfing format. It can be erratic at times, and a lot to digest at once, but it keeps things moving. On the odd occasion when the Beat Konducta stays in once place for too long, (such as “Spearthrow for Oh No” on this volume) it’s tiring. Maybe my attention span is spoiled by the brevity of most of the tracks. Maybe Madlib is just more of a flash-of-inspiration producer, lining up one disconnected idea after another, as opposed to making song-structure instrumentals like RJD2.
Because of the massive volume of tracks, the Beat Konducta records get better with each listen, and that was exactly my experience with Beat Konducta in Africa. Repeat listens reveal a wealth of little moments like the horns that soar over “Red, Black and Green Showcase”, the vocal hook that distinguishes “Warrior’s Theme”, the submarine throb of "Umi (Life)" and the lurching waltz-tome of “Chant 3”. These are scattered among less effective ideas, like the interludes that pair a tourguide record with some of the more muted beats in this collection. “Yafeu” for example, drags on far too long (just under two-and-a-half minutes, but it’s relative, eh?) without ever really hitting us with a great hook. Some of these spoken word portions are actually repeated, which adds to the tedium.
That inconsistency is a symptom of Madlib’s try-anything approach, the same thing that makes his best moments so inspired. Even if this isn’t the strongest of the Beat Konducta records, it is always good to hear Madlib in his element, chopping up cool samples. Writing about the first volume in Madlib’s Medicine Show, I said “Hip-hop, by its very nature, has broken down concepts of music ownership so thoroughly that it would be absurd to fault an artist for one more form of cultural high-jacking.” In my review of the second volume, I accused Madlib of cultural high-jacking. And here I am, writing about the third volume, which I guess falls on the good side of the difference between hijacking another artist’s work and making something new from it.
I love sampling. Before I ever owned a microphone, I was making music patched together from samples. DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing was the record that changed the way I approached making music. Once I heard that, I was done writing songs on a guitar. I spent most of my sophomore year in college crouched in front of my computer (I couldn’t, and still can’t, afford an MPC or anything like that) ripping CDs and looping and layering samples. I didn’t produce anything worthwhile, but I gained a new appreciation for the Pete Rocks of the world, and my interest in hip-hop went into overdrive. When I discovered Madlib, I had found this music’s Ornette Coleman, an artist doing things his own way, producing a diverse range of projects all tied together by a distinct feel that is difficult to pin down. Even when Ornettle Coleman is playing the violin or trumpet instead of his usual saxophone, it’s easy to recognize him. Likewise, whether he’s chopping up breaks or playing the drums or rapping, there is something uniquely Madlibish about everything Madlib makes.
And this particular slab of Madlibishness, while not his masterpiece, is a worthy entry into his perplexing canon. The samples from highlife and afrobeat and soukous give these beats a unique feel, and the way “African Map Hustler” segues seamlessly into “Street Watch” might point the way for a more technique-oriented future for the Beat Konducta, which would be interesting to see. And, if nothing else, tracks like “Heritage Sip” and “Mighty Force” are essentials for anyone’s “Best of Madlib” mix CD.
Three down, nine to go. Next up: Madlib releases an album on 4/20. I'd give you three guesses, but you wouldn't need all three.