Imagine this mindbender: Heidi Klum walks into Nip/Tuck, talking about drastically changing her landscape. She wants to look like Halle Berry. What? OK. Technically, there’s no reason to start cutting, but you can’t really argue with the end results.
Now apply the metaphor to Madlib’s landmark collaboration with MF DOOM, Madvillainy. Probably not as pleasant a snuggle partner as Seal’s baby mama, but Madvillainy proved a revelation — Madlib’s blunted, swap-meet-boom-bap, was perfectly tailored to DOOM’s alliterative, Sesame Street nonsense. On Madvillainy 2, Madlib breaks out the scalpel and grafts all new music to MF DOOM’s signature verses.
Why start in with all this cutting?
The minute the Madlib/MF DOOM collab was confirmed, backpackers cheered the no-brainer. Each had the cure to the other’s disease. Since walking away from the traumatic wreckage of golden era underground legends KMD (there’s an alleged new album in the works), DOOM’s dusty beats were serviceable sketches of the wackiness only Madlib had the imagination to pull off. And after Madlib’s eccentric genius outgrew his childhood rap group Lootpack, Madlib’s mic skills lacked the quotables and punch lines to give even the slightest lip service to traditional hip-hop (helium-voiced alter-ego Quasimoto may be transcendental, but he’s the cat to hip-hop’s doggy, the oranges to its apples).
Critics and fans knew the union was a perfect fit, but what makes it stand beside College Dropout as the best hip-hop album of 2004 is that it was even better than people expected. Avoiding his tendency to get overly tangential, Madlib’s beats on “Curls,” and “All Caps” are so hook-laden you could go fishing with the instrumentals, while DOOM drives his charismatic, pun-heavy one-liners straight up the middle with minimal fluff. People expected quirky potential, maybe flawed greatness… anything but coherence. Yet, here it was, 23 tracks that all seemed of a piece; two dozen tracks of eccentric beats and absurdist raps that seemed strangely conceptual. Madvillain: the antagonist of hip-hop conformity.
So, putting Madvillainy (1.0) under the knife to make Madvillainy 2 is technically sacrilegious, except we know only good can come of Madlib locking himself in the Bomb Shelter with the Madvillainy master tapes and his Wizard of Oz record collection (where Frank Zappa is as likely to get sampled as Lonnie Liston Smith). Besides, fans who frowned on the idea of tampering with oddball hip-hop’s Holy Grail softened as DOOM becomes even more enigmatic and elusive, and the possibility of a much-hyped follow-up to Madvillainy slips further and further away.
It’s impossible for a classic album redux to be better than the original. The order of the universe won’t allow it. Nobody dare speak it. But Madlib definitely hasn’t tarnished Madvillainy’s reputation. He brightens the corners with a steadier hand on the beats, the grooves are peppier and more varied: tracks like “Heat Niner” with its lurching, Morphine-esque sax loop, and “Roller Coaster Riders” that sounds just like its title, show Madlib truly has no ceiling as a producer. “No Brain” and “Boulder Holder” are just as likely to have you hustling to the dance floor as originals “Figaro” and “Money Folder” had you hallucinating in your living room. “Borrowed Time” maintains the sallow creepiness of “Accordion,” and “Cold One” turns “Rhinestone Cowboy” over to moody ’70s CTI jazz.
With the exception of a couple tracks — “Space Ho’s Coast to Coast” (“Space Ho’s” from the MF DOOM + Danger Mouse album DANGERDOOM) and “Butter King Jewels” — DOOM’s vocals are lifted straight from Madvillainy, but the new background brings freshness to his clever flow. “Monkey Suit”‘s ode to the cubicle drone brings new focus to internal rhymes like: “Tussle the hustle you’re dank with dirt/ Won’t be in the club with no muscle tank shirt/ You could find him in the pub with the grub stain/ Chugging on a small tub of pain to his bug brain/ Sane, some say he plum crazy/ Amazed at how he still get paid but dumb lazy;” lines betraying their nonchalance with incredible intricacy. There’s enough variance here to consider Madvillainy 2 its own release, and it’s worth the re-up if you already own Madvillainy. If you’re hardcore, the box set will satisfy both the collector and Madlib’s money clip ($125: CD + “One Beer (Drunk Version)” 7-inch + Madvillain demo version cassette + t-shirt + All Caps comic book? = Yes, I’m bitter that I don’t have one).
The album successfully re-invents a classic, but the potential this re-working represents will only make fans hungrier for the “proper” follow-up to the original Madvillainy. There may be a purpose to this nip/tuck after all.
Stones Throw: www.stonesthrow.com