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Eat your heart out Christgau!

Reviewing Madlib albums in the traditional sense feels like a waste of time these days. There’s no point in trying to figure out a particular record’s inner logic: it’s probably just the result of Madlib’s particular listening patterns on any given week. In fact, Madlib’s output is single-handedly redefining what it means to be a producer and DJ by blurring the lines: his mixtapes sound like embryonic beats and his beat tapes are so rough-edged and spontaneous that they don’t feel like new creations so much as other people’s music passed through a “Madlib” filter. Throw in couple of jazz records and some rapping and it’s enough to drive the average man… well, mad. So with that in mind, here’s the first installment of “The Madlib consumer guide” to help you make sense of Otis Jackson’s recent releases. These are obviously one man’s opinion and yours may vary depending on your enthusiasm or distaste for the various musical strands floating in and out of Madlib land, but I’ve tried to be as honest as possible in regards to their appeal to hardcore and casual fans alike. – Sach O

Strong Arm Steady – In Search of Stoney Jackson

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In a nutshell: LA underground rap group and friends strike gold on the production front and take you back to the days of ABB 12 inches.

Any Good? Yeah, this one has consistently stayed in rotation since I reviewed it and my recommendation has only grown stronger. Though the phrase “real Hip-Hop” is enough to cause most people to break out into hives these days, this is hardcore rap of the finest sort and it’s infinitely better than the Guilty Simpson album. For Madlib fans seeking a rap fix this one’s a no-brainer.

Bag, borrow, pass? Bag it, it’s not like the market’s flooded with good new rap albums now, is it?

Download:

MP3: Strong Arm Steady – “Jordache Look” 

Madlib Medicine Show #1: In Before the Verdict

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In a nutshell: Leftover comedy skits from the already skit heavy O.J Simpson project with some Guilty vocals of dubious origin thrown in for good measure.

Any Good? Meh. There’s nothing offensive here and believe it or not, it actually flows more smoothly than Madlib and Guilty’s proper album but that’s not saying much. I have no idea where the Guilty Simpson lyrics are from, but they’re all right for what they are; still, there’s no escaping that this feels completely inessential.

Bag, borrow, pass? Pass. Borrow it if you MUST hear everything Madlib’s ever put out.

MP3: Guilty Simpson – “Before the Verdict”

Madlib Medicine Show #2: Flights to Brazil

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In a nutshell: A mixtape of distilled moments from Madlib’s formidable Brazilian record collection including Tropicalia, Samba, MPB, Jazz and afro-funk.

Any Good? Fuck yeah. Though it doesn’t surpass last year’s similar and spectacular “Speto de Rua” mix, it nearly ties it in terms of incredible records on display. Everything here is so expertly blended and selected that it occasionally feels more like a Beat Konducta tape than an actual mix with hypnotic grooves intersecting ever 30 seconds. One gets the feeling that almost everything here could (or will) end up on a future selection of Brazilian beats. A fantastic record.

Bag, borrow, pass? Bag. And try to find Speto de Rua while you’re at it.

The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble – Miles Away

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In a nutshell: Long labored jazz effort is a pleasant slice of fusion.

Any Good? Yup. Particularly by Madlib jazz standards. These are strong grooves that feel way livelier than last year’s Jackson Conti album making for a genuinely fun listen rather than a stodgy tribute to jazz classicism. Not a revelation by any standards but a great Sunday morning record that rewards multiple listens. Still, if you buy one Madlib jazz album, you may want to hold out for The Young Jazz Rebels’ Slave Riot.

Bag, borrow, pass? Bag it if you’re already a fan of Madlib’s jazz output, borrow it if you aren’t.

MP3:  The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble – “Tones For Larry”

Madlib Medicine Show #3: The Beat Konducta in Africa

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In a nutshell: The newest in Madlib’s long-running post-Donuts instrumental series and watch out it’s a huge one, taking on all of sub-Saharan Africa in a 43 track odyssey.

Any good? Very good actually, the album is a worthy successor to 2008’s magnificent Dilla tribute suites. With a loose funky feel and a 1988 Native-Tongues worthy set of vocal samples bigging up Africa, the beats here are some of Madlib’s finest once again blurring the lines between mixtape and original production. Though it’s a bit long, particularly with the extended A.F.R.I.C.A bonus tracks, in this case there’s no such thing as too much material.

Bag, borrow, pass? Bag it. That goes double for rappers looking for beats, I want to hear Black Star get on these.

MP3: Madlib – “Frontline (The Inspiration)”

MP3: Madlib – “African Voodoo Queen (Drama)”

Guilty Simpson – OJ Simpson

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In a nutshell: Puzzlingly awkward rap album by second-rate Beanie Sigel filled with more skits than rapping.

Any good? This one’s a total bomb, which is confusing considering how much Stones Throw is promoting it as a major release. Guilty Simpson is a decent gangster rapper, but burying his album in a torrent of blaxploitation comedy skits is a HORRIBLE look that makes no sense whatsoever: getting to the rap tracks feels like a chore and you’ll be reaching for the skip button in no time. This screams of self-indulgent stonerism, which is a shame considering there’s a good rap album buried in there somewhere.

Bag, borrow, pass? Pass but if you do cop it, at the very least edit out some of the skits to give it some forward momentum. No album should have an intro AND a prelude.

MP3: OJ Simpson – “Cali Hills”

The Young Jazz Rebels – Slave Riot

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In a nutshell: Yet another Jazz record from Madlib, this one self-consciously tapping into the free jazz spirit to surprisingly dope results.

Any good? Absolutely, It’s probably Madlib’s best jazz release so far by a considerable margin. By focusing on extremely rhythmic and experimental styles, the results are thrillingly energetic and are often as psychedelic as they are jazzy. After years of polite imitation under various guises, Slave Riot feels like Madlib’s first truly uncompromised jazz record: wild, fearless and hopefully a sign that he can grow into his jazzier tendencies not just gracefully, but energetically.

Bag, borrow, pass? Bag it or at the very least borrow it. Give it a chance; you’ll be surprised.

MP3: Young Jazz Rebels – “Forces Unseen”

Madlib Medicine Show #4: Chalice All Stars AKA Son of Super-Ape

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In a nutshell: Unofficial long-awaited sequel to Madlib’s “Blunted in the Bomb Shelter” mixtape doubles as a stoned companion piece to Volume 2’s Brazilian grooves.

Any good? Yeah, though it’s less consistent than his previous reggae tape, which drew from a specific set of Trojan singles, it makes up for it through sheer variety and quality. From spacey instrumentals to scratchy one-off dubplates, Madlib’s reggae game is unmatched and it’s unlikely that you’ll ever find more than a few of the original sources online. Throw in a list of LA marijuana dispensaries and you’ve got the perfect record for your next weed session.

Bag, borrow, pass? If you’re into reggae, bag it on sight.