Before there was Lord Quas and DJ Rel, before there was The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz Ensemble and Monk Hughes, Stoney Jackson or The Beat Konducta, there was merely Madlib and Kazi. Two kids barely out of their teens, repping the 805 — Oxnard, if the phone code looks unfamiliar.
The Lootpack was already in existence, dropping the self-released Psych Move EP, the one that Peanut Butter Wolf first heard and blindly bet the house on Otis Jackson Jr., — one of those wise historical moves akin to the Red Sox first giving Theo Epstein the keys to the front office. But before he ever put out his first release on Stones Throw, Madlib was the sun at the center of the gestating Oxnard music scene.
You’re familiar with most of those names from the greater constellation of Madlib releases: Declaime, also known as Dudley Perkins, Wildchild, and M.E.D. They all make cameos on this record. His childhood friend and collaborator, Kazi became lesser known. He dropped a Madlib produced EP called Down for the KAZ sometime around the millennium, which won a bit of acclaim in underground circles but was mostly overshadowed by the Unseen and Yesterday’s New Quintet projects that Madlib released during the same era.
Almost completely forgotten and unheard was their one and done full length project, Black Market Seminar. Kaz posted the full version on his Bandcamp circa 2011, but it’s getting the official re-release treatment right now on Below System Records. If you loved Soundpieces: Da Antidote, this is a minor classic in the same vein. As a producer, Madlib was finding his sound, more psychedelic than Pete Rock, more untethered than Premier, more dusty and lo-fi, the king of the bug-out.
In the words of Kazi:
We recorded this album in the wee hours at CDP Studios back in ‘96. It was pretty much me, Madlib and Declaime in the lab when this album was recorded.
I learned so much from Lib cadence, rhyme patterns, timing and how to dig for records. What some people don’t know is this cat actually took the time to show me how to make beats. I must say working with Lib was an amazing experience. The “Blackmarket Seminar” is a very raw and dark album. We came up with “Black Market” because at the time we were doing Hip Hop that nobody else was doing and to us you could only get it on the “Black Market”. When you first play the album you’ll hear characters on a skit in search of the “Blackmarket Seminar”. We really tried to make it seem like the characters were outside walking around looking for it.
There’s no such thing as real hip-hop, but there is something endearing about it in its rawest form — kids in the basement, metaphorical or otherwise, making music not necessarily for money but to satisfy that post-adolescent flush of creativity. When everyone is going to make it and drive around in cars fueled by champagne and blunt smoke (coming from Tesla in 2018), and yet somehow retain their integrity.
The darkness is undercut by a tentative optimism that life can be steered by sheer blind will. That all this energy and emotion will have to yield something better. This is a record about those things as much as it’s a record about rapping, taking out wack MCs, and all the backpack rap tropes you’d expect from something 20 years old. It’s some kids trying to be original or weird, whichever one came first.