There’s good reason to get excited anytime Madlib gives the people something new. One of the great things about Madlib is the wide variety of artists he works with, and the immense amount of different work he puts out. His infamously prolific rate of output is too potent to stay confined to just the occasional single; Madlib has released full-length projects with the zany MF DOOM, the brash Guilty Simpson, and most recently, the trap rapper Freddie Gibbs. This is what’s so neat about Madlib: Not only are you promised exceptional work, but you are promised contrasting work.
Anytime Madlib graces our ears with new music it’s worth a listen, or two, or six.
With this project, Madlib panders to a niche that is a little more familiar to him, having worked extensively with West Coast veterans MED and Blu in the past. Blu has always relied on the pure technical prowess of his flow, but has never been known to have an especially electric mic presence; he’s mostly gotten by through excelling at the simple formula of dope rhymes and dope beats. As for MED, he also brings a tight flow, but typically lacks character like Blu does. The two don’t contrast each other so much as they blend into one cohesive voice that glides through the album.
MED and Blu don’t add any personality.
This could be a theory as to why almost every single track features a guest. The two featured MC’s deliver perfectly passable rhyming throughout, but they don’t have enough of a defining presence to carry the album through fifteen songs. However, the features, for the most part, don’t add anything particularly flavourful to enhance the dreary atmosphere; there isn’t a standout feature until DOOM raids MED’s apartment on “Knock Knock.” Whether it’s the passable rapping, a lack of exciting guest verses, or just the overall atmosphere, this album doesn’t really pick up until the midway point.
“Serving,” a song with a modest instrumental and a Hodgy Beats feature, is bland in all aspects. MED and Blu don’t offer much, and Hodgy drops a forgettable verse with an egregious line about titties and hands. “Peroxide” is one of the first rap songs that has ever struck me as robotic; everything about it, from the beat to Dam-Funk’s awkward chorus, is robot-esque. And once again, MED and Blu don’t add any personality. The next three songs offer more of the same: passable beats and passable rapping (with the exception of the chorus of “Get Money” and the strings of “The Stroll”).
After an underwhelming start, the album grows and grows into a solid project.
The lacklustre introduction is salvaged by a second half that carries far better features. On “Knock Knock,” MF DOOM drops a dope verse over an extremely buoyant Bernie Worrell sample. The work behind the boards is crafty and DOOM spits a humorous story about raiding MED’s apartment. MED and Blu don’t really follow the narrative set by DOOM as their content tails off into the topic of girls. However their flows sound smooth once again (especially over this beat), and a wonderful piano riff concludes the song. “The Strip” features a wavy beat backed by hard-clapping drums and Anderson .Paak, who’s become one of rap’s hottest features after his performance on Dr. Dre’s Compton. .Paak thunders in for the passionate chorus: “Shining! I did for the strip!” and immediately raises the energy of the smoke-laden atmosphere. The next two soulful cuts follow suit, and set the stage for the album’s highlight: “Drive In.” This song oozes the soulfulness of some of the best Piñata cuts with a sped-up sample backed by extremely warm strings, all topped off by Aloe Blacc delivering a marvelous hook. The album concludes with Madvillainy-type brass on “Belly Full,” a very good MED verse on “Birds,” and a fuzzy-feeling sample that plays towards the end of “The Buzz.”
With the amount of front-loading that occurs in rap, this project is refreshing in a sense. After an underwhelming start, the album grows and grows into a solid project. It’s definitely not of the level of Madlib’s greatest projects, but anytime Madlib graces our ears with new music it’s worth a listen, or two, or six.