Shadows Of Today: Ten Years Of 'Madvillainy'

Toasting Madlib and DOOM’s collaborative hit…

It’s saying something for 2004 that the collaboration of lawless underground big shots Madlib and MF DOOM, as Madvillain, was probably not the biggest deal of the year.

Kanye was slowly beginning to listen to his own ego, Lil Jon and The Eastside Boyz were ruining clubs while 50 Cent and G Unit had the game in a chokehold, Jigga was going grey, The Black Eyed Peas were on the road to annoying, Twista was in his pomp, and Snoop was being more Snoop than normal.

On a more even underground parallel, Definitive Jux were lining up releases just lovely, and Eastern Conference, Chocolate Industries and Uncle Howie/Psycho+Logical vied for your attention off the charts. Beans, Mike Ladd and Jneiro Jarel were, circuitously, comparable opponents to the distinctive chop-shop attitude of ‘Madvillainy’ which, bearing a serious head of worked up steam, was the opus of a duo not exactly known for competition phasing them.

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Madvillain, ‘All Caps’

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Hype had been palpable, a genuine messageboard theoretical made real, yet neither of these artists were short of work – this was no do-or-die outshot plugging back catalogue holes and putting reps on the line.

Madlib had moved from Jaylib’s ‘Champion Sound’ with J Dilla from the year previous and would go on to release (amongst other things) Yesterday’s New Quintet/Monk Hughes tributes to Stevie Wonder and Weldon Irvine in ’04. DOOM, meanwhile, swapped his nametag for King Geedorah and Viktor Vaughn albums in 2003 and 2004, as well as ‘Mm.. Food’ about eight months after ‘Madvillainy’.

‘Madvillainy’ is defined by its flippancy and attitude to professionalism; slapdash and dilapidated, wholly unconcerned with making sense (or the definition of what sense is). This is not sticking it to establishment and the ways of intro-verse-chorus-verse-chorus-outro – the message is not to overthink, that the dope will win out, no matter how truncated. Let’s face it, pitching together rebels with the same cause isn’t something for the rocket science commission to fawn over – in a way the end product was always gonna be this straggly.

Getting to point B from point A becomes infuriatingly addictive – the befuddlement just works. The funk is not so much dusty as having beefed-up crate mites taking large bites out of it, the panning for gold out of vinyl dregs creating a patchwork with a pending expiry date.

Far from the album ageing badly 10 years on, its 22 tracks in 46 minutes is a self-explanatory demonstration of being on and against the clock. The feel of unfinished business meant a sequel bearing the same amount of hype was readymade, but as yet reduced to speculation. Madlib was recently quoted that, “I’m not forcing him (DOOM) to do it. He doesn’t even have to do it; I just want to know where we are at with it,” and that any part two “has to be a continuation of the last one”.

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Madvillain, ‘Accordion’

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Directed by a rule of shoulder-shrugging, splitting spontaneity and attention deficiency via an unspoken telepathy acknowledged by innate body language, you can’t imagine either lecturing the other as to how to stick to a game plan or many notes being taken during sessions. You also wonder at times how much the relationship is based on each going for self. For all thoughts of a likeminded connection, one-on-one interaction sometimes transmits as happy/haphazard coincidence.

DOOM, he who has “more lyrics than the church got 'Ooh Lords,” spits sixteens with an individual eloquence, covering head-spinning word association, scrambled battle raps, acts of an abstract lothario (‘Operation Lifesaver’), and surprisingly straight-up tales of street life (‘Strange Ways’) and broken love (‘Fancy Clown’), taking him out of the damaged superhero model. All of which look to be screwed up and binned at any moment, never to be repeated.

‘Lib finds the groove, makes it wheeze for a while, then yanks it into long-lost public service announcements about marijuana before holding AM radio to ransom, sampling everyone from Frank Zappa to Street Fighter II. If there are accordions to be used, he’ll make a track called ‘Accordion’, rummaging through the same charity shop of sounds that contributed bagpipes to Jaylib’s ‘Survival Test’. ‘Sickfit’ is a beast of a boom-bap instrumental no longer than 90 seconds. His introduction of Quasimoto holds down the urgent/nonsense philosophising of ‘Shadows Of Tomorrow,’ and the Stacey Epps-guided ‘Eye’ would be neo-soul by numbers were it not such a moment of calm and clarity.

Rap album of the year? You could argue it was not even the best ‘04 release on Stones Throw, having released ‘The Third Unheard: Connecticut Hip-Hop 1979-1983’ compilation and restored Peanut Butter Wolf’s Charizma album.

“The problem with Madvillainy, if it can even be termed a problem, is that DOOM and Madlib just have too many ideas,” PopMatters reviewed. Crucially however, neither lets the other one or their expectant audience down. What it overdoses on in splutter, it compensates in horsepower, forever fogged – “DOOM nominated for the best rolled Ls / And they wondered how he dealt with stress so well,” goes ‘America’s Most Blunted’ – but always free from claustrophobia as it shambles on through.

And should that sequel ever materialise, there’s little danger of the duo being unable to pick up from where they left off.

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Madvillain, ‘Fancy Clown’

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Words: Matt Oliver

‘Madvillainy’ was released in March 2004. A remix version emerged in 2008, but to date no sequel proper to this enduring collaboration has been formally announced, despite several comments from involved parties regarding its on-going development.

Find Madvillain at the Stones Throw website

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Listen to ‘Madvillainy’ in full via Deezer, below…

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