Madvillain (Madlib x DOOM) “Madvillainy”: A 15 Year Retrospective
Two of America’s most blunted bunkered down in Stones Throw’s storied Bomb Shelter and the end result was a modern classic Rap album.
In October 2003, independent West Coast Hip Hop label Stones Throw released Jaylib’s “Champion Sound”, a collaboration between J Dilla and Madlib who shared both production and rhyming duties. The album was a sensation that not only ignited the independent Hip Hop world but garnered much attention and critical acclaim from the mainstream music press although it didn’t move the amount of units Stones Throw hoped it would.
While Madlib was a fan of DOOM, DOOM was largely unfamiliar with Madlib and his back catalogue. Egon of Stones Throw/Now Again reached out to a friend of his who knew DOOM in Atlanta and sent over a batch of Madlib beats to forward to him. DOOM loved what he heard and preliminary negotiations were underway for them to work together.
Not too long afterwards, DOOM flew out to California to begin the process of writing and recording their joint project under loose and shaky terms as Stones Throw was cash strapped at the time. DOOM’s then manager was also aiding in picking beats and co-ordinating the project but over time her role in the creative process was all but erased since she wasn’t a part of Stones Throw and looking out for DOOM’s interests.
In the album’s final credits she was listed as the “project consultant” as opposed to an A&R whereas Egon was credited as “project coordinator” since he reached out to DOOM then made the arrangements to bring him to California. She was also billed as Allah’s Reflection when her voice was used on “Fancy Clown”. In most other articles written about “Madvillainy” her contributions aren’t mentioned at all or her name isn’t used.
Preliminary work on the album actually began back in 2002 and was delayed for an extended period of time when an early version of the album leaked onto the Internet. After the original incarnation of the project stalled, the man behind the mask went back home. After an extended hiatus, DOOM was finally back and ready to work. What followed was an impressive streak of creative genius.
After stepping away from the unfinished “Madvillainy” project, DOOM was riding a wave of success following his highly popular “Special Herbs” instrumental series and his 2003 albums “Take Me To Your Leader” (as King Geedorah) & “Vaudeville Villain” (as Viktor Vaughn) became certified classics. Suddenly DOOM was in high demand. It was now time for The Unseen and Metal Fingers to finish what they had started the year prior. Madlib went back and re-did some the original beats and DOOM opted to re-record his vocals. After the finishing touches were added, the final product was a classic Rap album for the ages.
The hope was a collaborative album with Madlib could potentially manage to match the critical acclaim of Stone Throw’s previous collaborative project “Champion Sound” while simultaneously achieving the sales success that eluded it. Less than 6 months later, Stones Throw followed up their Jaylib project with one that paired Madlib with another one of the underground’s most prolific and beloved producer/MC’s, MF DOOM.
Madlib was also riding a pronounced hot streak at the time which included his Blue Note remix album “Shades Of Blue” which was released in June 2003 followed by the aforementioned “Champion Sound” with J Dilla. The collective momentum gained from Madlib being in the creative zone, DOOM’s steady ascent and Stones Throw’s stretch of undeniable releases culminated in the perfect musical storm of momentum. On March 23, 2004 the MF DOOM and Madlib collaboration “Madvillainy” was finally unleashed on the masses.
Underground Hip-Hop heads and independent Rap fans highly anticipated the project from the outset largely due to the buzz generated by the “Money Folder”/“America’s Most Blunted” vinyl which featured Madlib’s alter ego Quasimoto trading bars with DOOM. The fact that both DOOM (King Geedorah & Viktor Vaughn) and Madlib (Quasimoto, Yesterday’s New Quintet & DJ Rels) who recorded & released projects under different aliases were now working together added a layer of mystique to the album. It was the Hip Hop version of Marvel Team Up (or for DC heads, The Brave & The Bold).
Both music critics and Hip-Hop heads alike were blown away by how “Madvillainy” was masterfully executed. DOOM’s bars perfectly complimented Madlib’s production. The duo sounded like a unit that had been working together much longer than the relatively short time they spent collaborating. They had the type of shorthand creatives typically have when they’re both in a zone.
The album opens with the intro “The Illest Villains” before yielding to the bouncy “Accordion”, a track that’s so beloved and iconic that back in 2011 The Roots once covered it with Weird Al Yankovic. Most tracks on the album were under 3 minutes long and the perfect sequencing greatly enhanced listening experience. This is best exemplified by the flawless four song stretch from “Accordion” to “Raid” and the five song sequence that spans from “Figaro” to “Eye”. It can be argued that the transition between “Fancy Clown” and “Eye” (featuring vocals from Stacy Epps) is what makes the entire sequence stand out so much.
If you instead decided to focus on individual songs that grab the listener like most casual music fans do then the stars of the project are “Accordion”, “Money Folder”, “Figaro”, “Fancy Clown”, “All Caps” & “Rhinestone Cowboy”. DOOM was at the top of his game lyrically and he gained a bunch of new fans off “Madvillainy” who were in great company with those that already were fans of his bars like Mos Def.
The overwhelmingly positive response to this album not only rose Stones Throws stock as a label and further cemented Madlib’s spot as one of the best producers on the planet but it also helped to catapult DOOM’s career into another strata entirely. This project raised anticipation for his classic Rhymesayers follow up “MM.. FOOD” which led to his 2005 breakout collaborative DangerDOOM album with Danger Mouse for Cartoon Network “The Mouse And The Mask”. “Madvillainy”’s influence on both projects is undeniable after hearing them both.
In the 15 years following the release of “Madvillainy” the legend of the album grows and grows introducing a younger generation of Rap fans to independent Hip Hop, Madlib, DOOM and Stones Throws back catalog. Not only has this project resonated with music critics, casual music fans, those that weren’t even that familiar with Rap initially and young people but it’s become one of the gold standards to aspire to amongst musicians, producers and MC’s alike.
Artists from various genres of music cite “Madvillainy” and regard it as a classic album. Sonically, Madlib was able to show his versatility and bring out different flows, patterns and sides of DOOM. DOOM went from doing what sounded like spoken word (“Bistro”) to what could almost be categorized as jazz singing (“Rainbows”) this album’s randomness, variety and will to do something different sparked the imaginations of people from all walks of life lending to it’s seemingly universal appeal.
When you set out to create art, you do so in the hopes that it touches people, inspires them and resonates with audiences. You make music and pray that people enjoy the fruits of your labor and the end result of numerous man-hours of writing, recording, arranging, editing, sequencing and mixing. What we were ultimately blessed with was a sonic masterpiece crafted by two Hip Hop legends both at the top of their respective games who found common ground and were in perfect synch musically.
Regardless of if you’re not an underground Rap fan it’s hard to hear “Madvillainy” and front on what DOOM and Madlib created. Numerous reputable music magazines and music sites such as Spin, Mass Appeal, Ego Trip(land), Hip Hop DX, Metacritic, Rhapsody & Pitchfork all regard this album as one of the best of the past decade. These sites all agree on the same thing less often than the DNC & GOP do…
The influence of “Madvillain” can be heard in everything from Rock to Electronic albums spanning the past 15 years. Yasiin Bey once covered “Rainbows” with the Hypnotic Brass Band. Even Neneh Cherry did a vocal cover of “Accordion” in 2012. A testament to the influence & popularity of this album is that young people have posted instrumental covers of different Madvillain songs since YouTube first launched back in 2005. Here we are 15 years later and it still resonates with audiences and has the same replay factor as it did the day it dropped back in late March 2004. Written in cold blood with a toothpick...