‘Madvillainy’ saw two colossal figures in experimental hip hop team up at the top of their games, consequently crafting one of the greatest albums of the decade. Released on cult independent label Stones Throw in 2004, the pairing between the ever-elusive, metal-masked MC MF DOOM and prolific producer Madlib has been cemented in music history for its eclectic sampling measures, abstract poetry and unconventional song structures, launching them from underground heroes to rap royalty.
‘Madvillainy’ is characterised most notably for its experimental approach to hip hop: short song lengths (averaging around the two-minute mark), dense bass heavy beats, cartoonistic antihero themes, interesting track segues, intangible lyricism and samples from genres ranging from avant-garde jazz acts like Sun Ra, progressive and experimental rock and television theme music alongside sounds from all corners of the world. The chemistry between the MC and producer is how the greatest hip hop duos, such as Gang Starr, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth and Eric B. & Rakim made their name and Madvillain are no exemption to this rule. This is all the more surprising due to the fact that they habitually worked in separate spaces of Stones Throw records during the production of the album; the two seemed to connect on another level.
Although the ostensibly a-rhythmical interplay between DOOM and Madlib may seem like a difficult and abstract quality for a first timer, ‘Madvillainy’ requires repeated listens to take shape. ‘Accordion’ is the first example of the eclectic and innovative production aptitudes of Madlib, utilising instrumentation often left untouched in hip hop.
Madlib has become notorious for his vast record collection plundered from each continent, a collection which has rewarded him with the holy grail of beat-making ability: the ear to create astounding, catchy beats from previously unheard music. These beats on ‘Madvillainy’ draw from the left-field of jazz, bygone film excerpts and hard-hitting funk and soul to create dizzy, heady beats with deep bass and echoing percussion. Madlib’s producing virtuosity is most notably heard in ‘All Caps’ which samples the reverberating snares and diminuendo flutes lifted from ‘Iron Side’ and the symphonic ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ sees string arrangements meet snippets of deserved applause from the albums “audience” to close the record.
MF DOOM’s challenging, complex and monotone rapping style had previously delighted many fans of the alternative side of hip hop in releases such as ‘Vaudeville Villain’ and ‘Operation Doomsday’ yet ‘Madvillainy’ is advanced by Madlib’s beats whilst DOOM furthers his riveting forays into metaphorical rabbit holes, disses to other rappers and popular culture references. Exploring track-by-track themes more explicitly than heard in his previous (and subsequent) work, DOOM’s raps cover disparate topics including, a comedic ode to his favourite herb on ‘America’s Most Blunted’, the fallacies and fallouts of warfare throughout ‘Strange Ways’ and strained romantic relationships and adulterous behaviour in ‘Fancy Clown’.
The track concerns a bizarre multiple personality love affair featuring a hostile back-and-forth between DOOM and his alter ego from the future, Viktor Vaughn culminating in an awkward self-diss, “Don’t make me have to pound his tin crown face in”.There are an inordinate amount of quality lyrical snippets to delve into in ‘Madvillainy’ but highlights include “Spit so many verses sometimes my jaw twitches, One thing this party could use is more [ahem]… booze” where DOOM unpredictably substitutes “booze” for the deceptively obvious. Similarly the ‘Accordion’ line “Hey you, don’t touch the mic like there’s AIDS on it” sees him calling out rival emcees on two parts: one being a diss regarding their intelligence (or lack of) due to their false beliefs of viral transmissions and secondly that he’s on another level of lyrical and vocal delivery than these adversaries.
Discussions surrounding a sequel to ‘Madvillainy’ seem to surface online every few weeks, yet there has been no concrete evidence such as a taster of a song or an in studio photograph to whet fans appetites. Until then, the originality, interplay between producer and MC and replay value of ‘Madvillainy’ has proved MF DOOM as the go-to figure in abstract hip hop and Madlib as one of the greatest beat makers of his era, with only the late J Dilla to rival him. It’s an album that gets better with every listen as new sounds, layers and sub-rhymes are unlocked with each, ultimately confirming that ‘Madvillainy’ is the greatest artistic statement in experimental hip hop.
This Madvillain article was written by Thomas Woodward-Massey, a GIGsoup Contributor. Edited by Sam Forsdick.