When Frank Nitt picks up a microphone he sounds like a man hosting a party. It makes sense: He's an MC, and his acronym job description has that connotation built in. (Do I need to tell you what it stands for?) Grave, streetwise lyricism is all well and good, and most of my favorite rappers lean in the conscious direction, but Mr. Nitt's impresario persona is refreshing.
On this out-of-chronology Medicine Show release, he celebrates the kind of capitalist decadence once caricatured in Soviet propaganda. It's easy to imagine champagne glasses and Monopoly Man monocles. This kind of thing irks bleeding hearts, but it's nice to see the Underground Mitten (as Mr. Nitt calls it) described in a way that would make people want to be here. Nittyville's vibe is quintessentially Detroit: privileged co-ed hipsters bump shoulders with ass-busting day-job MPC nuts. Scarcity makes for strange clubfellows, particularly in a city that birthed Derrick May and J. Dilla.
Mr. Nitt boasts, toasts, flirts with your girl and gives a few shout-outs to his DJ while Madlib adapts seamlessly, a consummate professional, switching over to Channel 85 with a series of drinks-in-the-air productions that perfectly compliment Mr. Nitt's buoyant staccato. More often than not, the layered samples are draped over thick kicks and bundleclap CLOPs on the twos and fours. The way this knocks you could dance to it drunk. Compare Nittyville's decadent bounce to the brittle haze on the Medicine Show's first volume, which perfectly suited Guilty Simpson's heavy-as-lead deadpan. One of Madlib's greatest strengths is his ability to compliment any vocalist.
Chemistry between an MC and a DJ is the classic recipe for great hip-hop. The gold standard is probably Guru and DJ Premier, or maybe C.L. Smooth and Pete Rock. In either case, both partners not only excelled in their respective fields as distinct individuals with instantly recognizable techniques, they also complemented each other perfectly. Madlib has never had a fruitful, ongoing partnership. He's done great work with Dudley Perkins, Percee P, Wildchild and others, with the best fit being his one-off joint effort with DOOM. Musical marriage isn't his bag, I guess, and the benefit of this beatsmithing bachelorhood is the wide, wide variety of rap records to be endowed with his blunted, magic touch.
Rap records like this one: You can't resist the way this project invites you to tango, and teases you with goofy mystery. Who is the un-credited guest on "Eyegotcha"? Why does the "What do you think you're gonna do about them?" chant in "Just Follow" make me think of Oompa-Loompas? Is that Dalek cameo (not the militant hip-hop group, the Doctor Who villain) a clue that Lord Quas loves his BBC sci-fi as much as I do? Am I crazy, or is Madlib sampling the same Residents track he used in a beat from Movie Scenes? (In a totally different way, I mean.) Who are these groupies? Who is that stand-up comic? Did Frank Nitt just name-drop I-75? I'm driving on I-75!
We’re almost to the end, true believers. The Medicine Show's two-part finale finds our blunted protagonist stepping back into the arena that made him a champion in the first place. Stay tuned.