Madlib is one of the most prolific producers of our time. A frequent boundary pusher, his catalog includes an album of Blue Note Records remixes, a full-length collaboration with Freddie Gibbs, a shroom-influenced alter ego named Quasimoto, and the imaginary jazz band Yesterday’s New Quintet — which features Madlib playing every single instrument.
For Madlib music is more than a passion — it’s everything. “Basically my whole life is music, that’s all I do 24–7,” he said in an interview with Dazed Digital. “I’ll take two months off just to listen to records and not do any music so I can absorb all that and then when I go do my music. It’s all in me. I’ll listen to a different genre every two days or something, study it, 24 hours straight.”
Though he credits his dad and his grandparents for turning him into a jazz aficionado, his lifelong infatuation with producing started when he heard “Rapper’s Delight” and Too Short’s early material. “I was into the producers before the rappers,” he explained in a Wax Poetics interview. “I was into the music, the beat.”
“I’ve got about three or four rooms of records, and two rooms of instruments. I’ve probably got more than four tons [of records] by now.”
But it was his introduction to Marley Marl that proved to be a true watershed moment. “Them hard drums Marley Marl used,” he told Wax Poetics. “That’s when I first said, ‘I wanna do that.’”
From there, he started digging for samples between ’85 and ‘86. 11 or 12 at the time, Madlib purchased his first sampler and started on his journey. “I bought this [Mattel] Synsonics drum thing and this little sampling machine, sampled like one second,” he told Wax Poetics. “You’d have to speed the record up real fast. [laughs] I learned from that. I just bought a sampler and tried to figure it out.”
Then he started pocketing lunch money from his mom to buy new vinyl. “I would save my lunch money every week,” he told Stop Smiling. “DJ Romes had a bike, and I would ride it all the way to the record store and pick up the latest stuff. My mom was mad because she knew I was using my lunch money. She’d ask me why I was coming home so hungry. Well, I had to buy that EPMD album.”
“Basically my whole life is music, that’s all I do 24–7. I’ll take two months off just to listen to records.”
Years of buying records for both general appreciation and sampling has taken a toll. Madlib’s collection now consumes multiple rooms in his home. “I’ve got about three or four rooms of records, and two rooms of instruments,” he told Spin. “I’ve probably got more than four tons [of records] by now. I’m constantly buying records.”
Four tons may seem unfathomable, but when broken down into actual records, it isn’t as large as some other legendary diggers. Music journalist and record collector Oliver Wang did the math and estimated that four tons equals about 16,000 records. 16,000 is without question an insane amount of vinyl, but there are folks out there like Jazzy Jay who own around 400,000 records.
Regardless of the final number, for Madlib its always about the music, not the size of his catalog or collection. For someone with so many records, he has a refreshing lack of pretension. “I search for records that I’ve found on YouTube,” he told Dazed Digital. “If I can’t get the record it doesn’t matter to me, I’ll bump the YouTube rip.”
He encourages up-and-coming producers to do likewise and open their minds to the limitless sample sources out there. “Take shit off cassette, VCR, iTunes, anything,” he said while explaining his sampling philosophy to Wax Poetics. “Some water dripping, it don’t matter. It just makes it easier for kids to learn quicker today. That’s good, if they’re good.”