The Medicine Show’s second mix was released on 4/20, and it’s not a coincidence. Before you even get the disc into your stereo, you’re faced with a (pretty fantastic) album cover that spoofs the iconic cover of Lee Perry’s dub masterpiece Super Ape. Where Perry’s simian mascot held a tree-sized marijuana cigarette, Madlib’s is hijacking an entire truck of medicinal marijuana. The liner notes contain a directory to every medicinal pot distributer in Los Angeles, and an FAQ about weed prescriptions. So I guess Madlib likes smoking pot or something. How his mother and I missed the warning signs, I'll never know...
It’s actually too bad ‘Lib couldn’t resist packaging this selection of Jamaican music in a (literal and figurative) green wrapper, because this music deserves to be presented as something more than ear candy for frat boys sitting under their Bob Marley banner taking tokes from a dragon bong. In the States, distanced as we are from Jamaica’s political and religious history by our own cultural insulation and good old-fashioned American Self-Attention, reggae is often used as a signifier of “good vibes” and a vague sense of righteous social awareness, man, though the only thing most Americans know about Rastafari is that weed is used ritually. (Don’t be too hard on those High Times subscribers, though; focusing on what suits our agenda and ignoring the rest is how Americans tend to approach all religions.)
While it’s true that War Ina Babylon and Two Sevens Clash can be enjoyed, like any great music, apart from regional and historical origins (is any song more universal than “Uptown Babies Don’t Cry”?) the religious and emotional depths of reggae and its related genres are too often neglected by American listeners, and to shift attention from those depths to the intoxicant of choice favored by the musicians is akin to understanding the rich tradition of American blues music as “misogyny songs.” There’s so much more to blues than just hating women.
All the concerns I had about Flight to Brazil apply here as well, so I won’t repeat them. I will say that this is a much stronger and more diverse mix than Blunted in the Bomb Shelter, Madlib’s mix of Greensleves and Trojan classics. Also, the transitions between tracks are pretty effective here. Even though a song is rarely allowed to play for more than two minutes, there’s a smooth cohesiveness to this mix. There are lots of little suprises, like the ska cover of the Mission Impossible theme, and a wide array of ska, roots, deejay and dancehall stuff; lots of toasting, singing and dubbing going on. As a listening experience, there's nothing to complain about here.
Four down, eight to go. Next month, the Bad Kid is unleashing an archival release of older material, as if he was Bob Dylan or something. Madlib has put out a few other releases this year in addition to the once-a-month Medicine Show releases: He produced a Strong Arm Steady album (released in January), his collaboration with Guilty Simpson is coming out on CD in May, and he put out two more records in Madlib’s Endless Quest to Make His Very Own On the Corner: Miles Away, as The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz and Percussion Ensemble and Slave Riot as The Young Jazz Rebels. Miles Away is a percolating goatee jazz and Slave Riot is an Arkestra-esque free jazz freakout. Both are in the top tier of Madlib's extensive jazz projetcs.