Thursday, February 25, 2010

MADLIB: Medicine Show No. 2 – Flight to Brazil

Madlib - Madlib Medicine Show: No. 2 - Flight to Brazil
The words of Jace Clayton, better known as DJ /rupture: “As a process, DJing is inevitable and necessary for our times, an elegant way to deal with data overload. As a performance, it's what the kids are grooving to the world over. As a product, it's largely illegal.”

Well, I’m certainly grooving to Flight to Brazil, and I’m sure it’s illegal. For the second Medicine Show release, (and the first of the mixes that will comprise the even-numbered volumes,) Madlib has compiled a wildly diverse mix of music from Brazil and there’s no indication (and very little chance) that the creators of this music gave permission or received compensation, though at the same time there is little indication here of any plunderphonic-politics. If any such comment exists, it is to be found in Flight to Brazil’s cover art (partially pictured above): It’s a painting of Christian missionaries arriving, presumably, in South America. Anachronistic details are added to the paining; firearms, a Coca-Cola can, pharmaceutical vials. Is someone making a comment about imperialism? Is someone being ironic?

Discussions about music piracy frequently cast narratives in which innocent college kids downloading Grateful Dead bootlegs are pursued by rapacious corporate slime, but there’s another side. Regarding the morally dubious business model of the Sublime Frequencies label, the aforementioned Jace Clayton wrote “It’s a sadly familiar economic model: sell the cultural riches of non-Westerners without their knowledge or permission.” Isn't Madlib essentially doing this with Flight to Brazil? No information about the composers or performers behind this music is included in the liner notes, either because of that white-label attitude that makes DJs feel like part of an exclusive “in-the-know” record club, or (more likely) because by releasing this, Madlib is committing illegal copyright infringement. (This may also explain why the words “Stones Throw Records” are nowhere to be found on the Medicine Show releases, though it is clear that Madlib’s home label is behind them.)

It’s a shame, too, because every song on this mix makes me want to know more. And isn’t that part of the value in such an endeavor? And wouldn’t that information likely lead to increased dividends for these musicians (thus compensating for their lack of, erm, compensation) as listeners who are exposed to their work via this mix begin to seek out more?

Even if they aren’t being paid, these musicians could at least be celebrated as unique artists, but instead, the curator is the star of this show. Apparently, the talent on display is Madlib's talent for finding and buying records. The musicians are just some anonymous Brazilian people who made some tunes that would have languished in total obscurity if not for their hip American savior. Without any information, however, this music is still obscure, still anonymous.

Is this anything more than one music geek showing off his finds to other music geeks, ethics and ownership be dammed? Like most of Madlib’s mixes, it’s hard to see any intention here beyond sharing a bunch of awesome records he found while he was digging for material to sample, but it’s hard to deny the middle finger extended (perhaps unintentionally) by a mix of Brazilian music this diverse. You know those cheesy compilations they sell at Starbucks and in the “World Music” section at Borders, the ones with titles like The Sounds of Brazil? This is not like that. This is the antithesis of the coffee-shop tourism that pretends to squeeze an entire nation’s musical output into one digestible smorgasbord of background sound for Yuppies who want to feel “multi-cultural.” Madlib’s fondness for Brazillian music is well-documented, and the depth of his knowledge (or, at least, the depth of his record collection) is impressive.

Likewise, the role of a curator is a natural compliment to his work as a producer of sample-based hip-hop, and while mash-up artists like Girl Talk have blurred the line between creating something new from other people’s music and simply (or complexly) recontextualizing that music, these roles remain sharply distinct in Madlib’s curatorial work, which also lacks the manifesto politics of, say, DJ Spooky, and is rarely any more conceptual than Flight to Brazil’s geographic theme. He’s also not a very technical DJ. This isn’t Gold Teeth Thief. These songs aren’t mixed in any complex way; they’re simply truncated and cross-faded, linked by a man’s voice announcing flights to and from places in Brazil, as well as a repeating sample of a woman going “Whooooo!” (It’s not as dumb as it sounds.)

Listening to this mix illuminates much of Madlib’s original music, particularly his excursions into fusion as Yesterdays (sic) New Quintet; a familiar piano line pops up at one point, for example, one I am sure is sampled by Madlib on another release (or maybe the song is covered by YNQ), and the feel of these rhythms is certainly captured by many of the compositions on Madlib’s fusion projects. That probably isn’t the point, though. With this mix, it seems Madlib is just sharing (read: selling) some cultural riches he found (read: stole). Here’s an awesome song. Now, here’s another. Of course, I am exactly the sort of person to whom this appeals. Yes, thank you, Madlib, I would love to hear some awesome records you found. And it's impossible to deny that the actual music here is terrific. I just wish I could enjoy this mix without fretting over silly ethical questions.

Two down, ten to go. Next up: The Beat Konducta goes to Africa.


Suckapunch said...

#3 is out now

Jsand said...

yeah i been looking for the tracklist for a long time but i guess it is what it is!

Anonymous said...

I abolutely agree man. Well put/said etc. I'm sorry, but you cannot steal other people's music no matter how far away geographically they may be or how long you spent in a dusty record store "digging". Honestly fuck this guy.

Anonymous said...

I like the way you spoke to the idea of Madlib effectively stealing intellectual property from the global south to the benefit of the global north. It seems really hypocritical for us to one hand demand people in other countries respect our intellectual property rights and on the other hand allow the blatant ripping off w. out acknowledgment of artistic ownership or his/her product, by mix artists such as Madlib. Trust me I am a fan of his too (we're talking about 50 plays plus on at least 10 tracks and owning practically everything he's done). The guy is a beast for sure, but this is frankly appalling. I'm with you on the ethical dilemma all the way.

Anonymous said...

No sample list? WTF? Is this guy fucking serious? Blatantly ripping off Brazilian artists and then selling that shit for profit. A sample list would definitely soften the blow simply because it be an acknowledgment of the fact that he isn't responsible for the songs of the CD!!... retard kids around the world are going to think that this guy is the artistic force of the fucking last century simply because he's ripping off the best work of the last century, putting a beat over it and rapping. Madlib is dope and has skillz to pay bills but this is taking it too far. Paying 13.99 for this shit is literally giving your money over to a thief of decades worth of work by Brazilians and Portuguese artists. What a shame too, I was beginning to like his stuff.

Unknown said...

This cd is a mixtape,mixtapes are made for promotional use.

links for identified tracks.creating mixtapes is not illegal.

Joshua Waits said...

Creating mixtapes is not illegal, that’s true. But if these mixtapes feature works that are owned by copyright-holders who give no consent, we’re sort of slipping out of the land of legality when we sell them.

I’m not sure I understand the “promotional use” argument. Who or what is being promoted here? If these mixes were promotional releases given free-of-charge, I think Michael’s argument wouldn’t hold as much water, but these mixes are sold for profit.

I have a suspicion that if I made a mix of my favorite Yesterdays New Quintet tracks and sold the CDRs for $16 a pop, the cease-and-desist letter from Stones Throw records would be pretty terse.

Deadhead Sagittarius said...

nice article.
i think this is more of a "we don't give credits to anybody so we don't have to pay and if somebody mentions copyright infringement then we can discuss this further out" thing.
It seems to happen that this cd is not the only incident, i found another one:
I quote: "MadLib for some reason chose not to credit anyone other than himself, but since this track is mostly my song I say -- hey, the people have a right to know!"

man, i could be a fuckin lawyer ;)
okay sorry for the long post and my english.

The Chaunce said...

This type of thinking is largely irrelevant to the people who make and enjoy listening to music like this.

We all know it is illegal, and know that he doesn't "make" it, in the way that people know and accept these realities of other types of sample-based music. that have been made for nearly 35 years.

Madlib is not deluding his audience, because everyone knows it is a mixtape, and part of the fun is recognizing songs and, though this may seem too active for some listeners, the mystery of seeking out songs and samples and researching artists on one's own without knowing.

Imagine if Madlib's record sales numbers were high enough that other record labels cared about what he did, and he needed to and was able to pay for credits? I think most listeners would prefer that reality.

PQ said...

Maybe you've heard this already, maybe you haven't:

This (absolutely terrific) review was printed in the booklet for the final installment of the Medicine Show, No. 13, which just dropped. The booklet says the review was "Reprinted here without permission."

Congratulations, you definitely deserve it. Your writing makes me very jealous.