Sunday, January 16, 2011

MADLIB: Medicine Show No. 10 - Black Soul (Disco)

Madlib - Madlib Medicine Show: No. 10 - Black Soul
This is a party. When I hear music like this on FM radio, the DJ tells me we're bringing it back to the Old School as he wishes Anita Baker a happy birthday and middle-aged listeners call in to say "Oh you know I've got to hear some Commodores tonight." Requests, dedications, maybe a friendly Old School vote (Cameo vs. Morris Day?) and I do not change the channel. This is Disco and Funk; in-pocket drums that anyone can dance to, and the sharp edge of slapped basses and early digital synthesizers.

This mix isn't intended as a repudiation of the creeping racism and homophobia that fueled Discophobia; we can leave watered-down gender transgressions to Lady Gaga's Disco-pastiche. This is all about smooth grooves and easy syncopation, Earth Wind, Fire and Chi-Lites and someone whose name is Bootsy (Player of the year!)

Of all the mixes in the Medicine Show so far, this is my favorite. Madlib is clearly growing as a DJ. His mixes in the past were haphazard listens, tumbling through a pile of musical excerpts and funny sound clips with little cohesion. I usually didn’t mind, though, because no matter what genre he was mixing, he always brought incredible finds to the (turn)table. Black Soul (Disco) is no exception, but what makes this his best (and most re-listenable) mix isn’t just the selections themselves. This is a focused, skillfully assembled mix with an impeccable sense of timing. Madlib knows just when to kick it up a notch and just when to slow it down.

The transitions aren’t complex mash-ups, usually they’re just well-timed Q-switching, but they get the job done. (For example, listen to how James D. Hall steps aside for Don Blackman during the second track, or how Caroline Crawford segues into Brief Encounter during the third.) The easy groove never stops for long here and we even get a few brief beat-matched overlaps, something we haven't heard a lot on past Medicine Shows.

The trade-off might be that this mix isn’t stamped with Madlib’s trademark lunacy and the mixing lacks “personality” or whatever, but I’m fine with that. A mix shouldn’t be about the DJ. It should be about the music he plays. Mixes can liberate music from the cult-of-personality that sucks the fun right out of it and sticks us in a dull blogging rut when we should be dancing our asses off. The fact that Madlib is so willing to let his selections be the star shows confidence.

I first heard this on a drive between Dearborn and Ypsilanti at the end of a day-long trawl through Metro-Detroit’s finest record stores. My friend Brett was driving, blissing out and I saw people in other cars nodding their heads in time, as if they were listening to the exact same thing. I wanted to call Madlib and tell him "Great work, but you know I've got to hear some Commodores tonight."

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