Sach O forms like Old McDonald: E I O.
In Search of Stoney Jackson is Madlib’s 48 Hours. His Center of Attention. His Livin’ Proof. If those names don’t ring a bell, you’re probably not a fan of super producers giving away their best beats to seemingly undeserving rappers. That’s not a diss: I honestly doubt that anyone is picking up Stoney Jackson on the strength of Strong Arm Steady’s rapping same as Lil Dap didn’t move Group Home units. Madlib’s the selling point here and he delivers in spades with the kind of dusty, gonzo soul that’s become his trademark in recent years. Put your prejudice against Talib Kweli’s weed carriers aside however and Stoney Jackson’s vocal component reveals itself to be surprisingly robust: a potent reminder that West Coast Underground rap may well have been deserving of the hype a few years back.
There’s no avoiding the fact that this album is a throwback to a time when rap fans actually self-identified as backpackers. The production sounds EQed for the tape deck rather than the club and the rhymes are a mix of post-Wu Tang super-scientifical conspiracy theories and average-Joe battle raps that are miles away from Hip-Hop’s current trapstar-hipster dichotomy. Spitting stream of consciousness flows with a west coast twang, Krondon holds down the front man role, excitedly filling every nook and cranny of Madlib’s beats with a torrent of words. The guy’s clearly excited to be rapping over production this dope. Likwit also-ran Phil Da Agony on the other hand rarely raises his voice above a mumble, playing the back like a guest on his own album. Throw in a couple of SAS affiliates, Stones Throwers, and various underground cats and you’ve got all the fixings for a West Coast Soundbombing…10 years too late.
Thankfully, what might have gotten lost in the shuffle a decade ago feels surprisingly fresh today: the hook to “Ambassadors” contains more words than most Souljah Boy songs…sure that’s nerdy but it’s also pretty damn compelling in 2010. Topics range from chittlins and headwrap chicks to poverty and gang life but everyone here’s really just rapping for the sake of rapping: this is one giant cypher slash jam session where anything’s game so long as it rhymes with what the last guy spit. In an era where everyone’s trying to be the coolest, the hardest or the deepest, it’s nice that at least a few people are still trying to be the dopest. Even if the swings don’t always connect, you’ll find yourself chuckling at least once per song and the album’s fast-paced nature means that if you don’t like one rapper, you only have to wait 30 seconds for a new one. It’s this breezy, matter-of-fact vibe that saves Stoney Jackson from becoming a joyless underground slog, instead transforming it into a homerun for the two-turntables and a mic set.
As for the beats, Madlib continues his run as one of rap’s best and most singular auteurs, saturating the proceedings in lo-fi fuzz and pillaging samples from Parliament-affiliated white (video) girls and one-off acid rock singles. As consistent as the Beat Konducta volumes that have occupied him for the past few years, rap fans will appreciate that Stoney Jackson’s production is put to the service of lyricists rather than psychedelic beat explorations. Highlights may vary but everything here is premium grade-A boom-bap which will either thrill you or bore you depending on how much you appreciated underground rap’s run the first time around and whether or not you’ve appreciated the changes to Hip-Hop’s production M.O over the past 10 years. I for one am ecstatic.
Let’s be honest: The Stones Throw faithful already have this one on pre-order and the thought of an albino rapper over Madlib beats probably won’t rip away detractors from the newest Young Dro mixtape or Drake leak so this review is pretty much preaching to the choir. Still, if you’re on the fence about giving SAS’ Madlib collaboration a shot, I say go for it. It’s surprisingly rewarding after repeated listens and it’s probably Otis Jackson’s best all-around rap release since the second Quasimoto album, though the OJ Simpson jawn may soon knock it out the box. Either way, it’s 50 minutes of deliriously stoned boom-bap and if you’re like me you need SOMETHING to tide you over till that damn Madvillainy sequel.