“The Thrill Is to Find Something That’s Yours”: An Interview With B+ About Madvillain

In this interview conducted during the writing process of his forthcoming 33 1/3 book on Madvillainy, Will Hagle speaks to photographer B+ about the duo's friendship, Madlib's trip to Brazil and more.
By    March 7, 2023

Image via B+/Instagram

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Will Hagle is freaked out by people who golf.

In retrospect, Madvillainy feels like an inevitability. Madlib had to make a record with DOOM (or vice versa.) It’s a masterpiece from two artists who were far from identical, but whose spirits remain the same: two historical figures existing eternally and in the present-tense. A duo whose sole goal was to make music that appealed foremost to their own ears.

Madvillainy is also a product of circumstance. A surrounding cast of characters fostered its production, and contributed to its final form. Brian Cross, AKA B+, is one individual who was around both Madlib and DOOM in the early 2000s. His relationship with Madlib and the Stones Throw crew had a direct impact on the Brazilian samples and influences scattered across Madvillainy. Although his work is more wide-ranging, B+’s primary medium is photography. He came to Los Angeles from Ireland in 1990. While studying photography at Cal Arts, he entrenched himself in the West Coast hip-hop scene, and has captured compelling images of essentially every notable figure from rap history.

In November 2002, B+ organized a trip to Brazil. The goal, as he describes below, was to connect American drummers and DJs with their Brazilian counterparts. It was for a follow-up documentary to Keepintime, where L.A.-based DJs like J. Rocc, Babu, and Cut Chemist met and collaborated with frequently sampled drummers, James Gadson, Earl Palmer, and Paul Humphrey. In Brasilintime, those artists and Madlib met with Ivan Conti, Wilson das Neves, and many others. Much in the vein of Madvillainy, Brasilintime exemplifies the essence of hip-hop: the fusing of distant, yet spiritually-kindred sounds. Border-agnostic recontextualization of music for time and genre-agnostic appreciators.

If Madlib never traveled to Brazil in November 2002, Madvillainy would have sounded much different. Back then, fans got an idea of how it might have sounded while Madlib was in Brazil, when a collection of Madvillain tracks Madlib had burned onto a CD to listen to on the flight down leaked into cyberspace during the trip. The legend goes that the label went into panic mode when those songs began circulating online. DOOM and Madlib were unfazed. They shrugged it off and told everyone they’d just make a new record. Easy.

A few of Madvillainy’s most essential tracks, like “Raid” and “Rhinestone Cowboy,” were added to the tracklist after the Brazil trip. The villainous pair of “really nice boys” turned the album loose, and the Brazilian rhythms and samples reverberated throughout both mainstream and underground American music. B+’s trip achieved exactly what he set out to do. He not only connected artists from different countries on a personal level, but he introduced the music of two different cultures, both born out of specific context, to a global audience.

B+ was one of my favorite interviews I conducted while writing the 33 ⅓ book on Madvillainy (which comes out March 9, 2023, and is available for pre-order now — yes this is self-sponsored content.) I opened with a question about David Axelrod, but B+ launched straight into a story about DOOM’s appreciation for Caetano Veloso. I barely had to ask B+ anything, but he was open and enthusiastic in his responses, which I’ve transcribed in full below. He gives some great insights into Madlib’s Brazil trip, the Madvillainy leak, and what DOOM and Madlib were like as people and friends. Not everything could make it into the book, but I felt like people might want to read it. Check it out. If you order the book, thank you.

I was reading up on the photographs that you did for David Axelrod, and I was curious if you ever had any conversations with Madlib or DOOM about him or taking photos of him, because I think that was around the same time as when they were recording Madvillainy.

B+: We brought Madlib to Capitol Studios to meet with David Axelrod. I have a photograph of him and Madlib and H.B. Barnum because H.B. Barnum actually was a producer of Madlib’s father. Madlib’s father was an R&B singer who was produced by H.B Barnum for a while.
DOOM was a record head, so I spoke to him over the years about a few different things. Mainly Brazilian shit. The reason [Madvillainy] is so cut through with relatively obscure Brazilian records is because Otis—Madlib—had come to Brazil with Eric [Coleman] and myself in the process of making a film called Brasilintime, which is a film about DJs and drummers from the US going to Brazil and playing with DJs and drummers from Brazil.

In the process, everybody went digging. Otis, in his room, had set up a little portable turntable, an SP-303, and a tape deck. This is 2000, so the tape deck was actually part of the hotel room. It was the hotel room’s tape deck. He shows it in the film: making beat tapes: “Some people be making them on CDs. I make them on tapes.” He made a lot of those beats there. It comprised the second part of the record, basically. Not literally the way it was laid out on the record, but the second phase of the recording of [Madvillainy] were mostly from records that Otis found in Brazil.

He wasn’t just buying Brazilian music in Brazil. He was finding fusion shit. Random James Brown shit or whatever. He was just buying everything. He was crazy because the money was so crazy. Brazil was just an incredibly untapped resource at that moment, in terms of records. The Japanese had gone there and the British had gone there to some degree, but as far as us, nobody had done it.

In terms of conversations with DOOM, DOOM would be like, ”Yo, what’s up with Caetano? What’s up with that guy?” And I was like, “Oh yeah, it’s Caetano Veloso, bro.” He’s like, “Oh, have you heard this joint?” and he would play me some beat that he was working on, a creative sample of Caetano Veloso or whatever.

Much later, like 2009, Eric and I brought Arthur Verocai to the States for the first time to do a concert and DOOM introduced him for us, which made it very special. It’s in the film. DOOM came out, said… ”Yo, yo,” Does the DOOM thing and then disappears. I remember Verocai was like, “Man, what’s with the guy with the mask, bro? What’s with the guy with the mask?” I was like, “Yeah, yeah, that’s MF DOOM. Don’t worry about it.” But it was because DOOM had touched the Verocai records and shit and so I knew he knew. And for us, he’s such a heroic figure that we just thought, “Of course DOOM should introduce him.” It wasn’t on the poster or anything, but it was our special surprise type of shit.

How did that Brazil trip originally come about?

B+: I had made a film in 2000 called Keepintime. What I realized was that the thing that all the diggers were looking for in that moment was who played drums on it. It was James Gadson, Paul Humphrey, Earl Palmer, fucking Roy Porter, Idris Muhammad. Who plays drums on it? And that would be how you would determine whether a record was worth buying because people were looking for grooves that they could hang beats around. And obviously that was a good way to do it, was to see, “Oh, shit, it’s Idris Muhammad on all them fucking Blue Note breaks.” Wide open, crazy, beautiful drums. What I realized is on a lot of the Ultimate Breaks and Beats [compilation albums], a lot of them drummers were living in LA and a few of them were still playing around. For the most part, no one even know who the fuck they were. And I was just like, “Wow, man.” This is a very simple piece of information here. We just need to build this little bridge and bring this DJ beat community to the fucking fact that these drummers are here. And we did and it was wonderful. Suddenly, Gadson ends up on the D’Angelo record. He ends up on all kinds of shit. Paul Humphrey ends up on some Blackalicious record.

Right after we finished, I was asked to show the film at the Red Bull Music Academy in London. So I did. It’s a kooky film, and I always end up in these crazy conversations afterwards. What was interesting about it was that there was a bunch of techno producers there—European dudes—and their whole shit was, “We owe nothing to the past.”

It was interesting because it was like, “Dude, what the fuck is wrong with these guys?” But it’s just different approaches, I guess. Obviously I’m more interested in music as a continuum and they were against it. The guys from the Red Bull Music Academy were like, “Holy shit, we’ve always wanted to have these kinds of discussions in the Red Bull Music Academy.” But at that time, they weren’t inviting older musicians, really. It was all contemporary producers. It was an “aha” moment for them, I think. That led to all kinds of amazing people being brought to the Red Bull Music Academy, from Clare Fisher to fucking Robert Moog to all kinds of people.

In that moment anyway, we all went to lunch afterwards and they were like, “Dude, the next one’s going to be in Sao Paulo,” and I was like, “Wow, amazing. That’s going to be great.” And they were like, “We’d like you to come screen the film and organize a concert there with the American drummers.” I think in the back of their mind, they wanted to get fucking Madlib and they reckoned this was a good way to make it happen. I said, “Okay.” But then when I went home and I started thinking about it, I was like, “What the fuck are we doing going to Brazil, where some of the most important rhythmic innovations have happened,” especially in what you would call a larger group scenario, or a larger ensemble of drummers?

Some of the most important innovations have happened in Brazil. Why would we come here and be so fucking ignorant to think that they don’t have drummers and DJs on par with us? Everyone who saw Keepintime was like, “Oh, it’s like Buena Vista Social Club.” I loved that record, but I hated the fucking film. I really had a problem with the film. The film was really dumb, I felt, in the sense that it centered the notion of Carnegie Hall as the fucking center of the universe and the notion that that should be the finish of the story, that these Cubans finally got their due because they got to play at Carnegie Hall. It just was politically expedient. It was just a mistake. It was like, “Fuck off.” We got to center ourselves and everything, bro?

These guys were amazing because these guys were amazing, and these are fucking Communist musicians from proud fucking Cuba. Let’s just honor that. We don’t need to put ourselves in the center of this story. I like Wim Wenders’ films generally, and I’m a big fan of Ry Cooder, but anyways, I was desperate to try to say, “No, actually we’re doing the opposite.” As opposed to going to Carnegie Hall, we’re going to go to a nightclub on a Monday night in Sao Paulo, and we’re going to do this thing and we’re going to bring Brazilians and we’re going to bring the toughest Brazilians.

But then what I come to realize then was that in fact, generationally, there was a lot of similarities, man. We found three cats that were parallel universe dudes, except their careers were in Brazil. Studio guys, session guys. Wilson das Neves is—he’s passed away now—but he’s one of the most important drummers of the 20th century. He’s a u*cking incredible drummer, man. Like, Elis Regina, you know what I mean? Chico Buarque. He was one of the signature dudes who figured out how to transform samba school rhythms into a trap set.

Ivan Conti too.

B+: Yeah, Mamao was part of it. Of course, that’s the beginning of the conversation between Madlib and Azymuth, which became the Jackson Conti record. And then the youngest of the drummers on our side was Derf Reklaw, who’s a really unique polymath, crazy, percussionist dude. On the Brazilian side, there was this dude called Comanche, who’s again, somebody who’d built his own kit and had a huge career. He played on a lot of the Verocai records.

It was just this amazing thing. But of course, from a DJ perspective as well, there were cats in Brazil that were fucking really amazing, who make beats and DJ. We put all that together. We ended up staying there for a month. It was really a life changing experience for everybody. We brought Otis from the airport and we got to the room and I was like, “Yeah, just be careful. Just don’t drink the fucking tap water in the rooms. Not that the tap water in Sao Paulo is bad or anything, but I just don’t want anyone to get sick and just apply the normal due diligence.” And then Otis fucking called me completely panicked from his room: “Yo, I just brushed my teeth. Did I do the wrong thing?” I was like, “No, bro, I think you’ll be fine.”

People had no idea about Brazil, man. It’s sorry to say that it’s not that different now, but in that period it was definitely more pronounced. I’m not North American. I’m Irish, but I feel bad for North Americans that seem to know more about fucking Europe than they do about the rest of this continent because South America’s a fucking extraordinary place, man, and in terms of the music too, it’s very, very important, the innovations that have happened south of the border. But people seem to have these craziest tropes, stereotypes of what it’s like down there. Everyone was terrified they were going to get AIDS. I mean, this crazy shit where you’re like, “Dude, where did all this come from?”

But by the end of the trip, of course… I mean, the whole point of the film, to be honest with you, in the end, as with a lot of the work that we’re engaged in or whatever, was to try and build some cultural bridge that people could make a bunch of connections there so that cats like Otis would get invited back to play, which he did many times… So that we would begin to think of Brazil as musical neighbors, and we could have a proper back and forth conversation. That film was really the beginning. And we were all of course like, “Oh fuck, Pharrell is going to be here in five minutes and he’s going to figure the whole shit out, and it’s going to have a huge impact on the culture at large.”

And in fact, quite the opposite. I don’t think fucking Pharrell bought a single record on that trip, but it came later for them. They didn’t have the ears for it. They came to do that video with Snoop and they went to Rio. They did the Rio thing. They went to the beach. They saw a bunch of great looking girls and came home. Never really took it seriously, whereas we were there for a month and we went in. It was magical, dude. I’ll say this. This is a story I told before, but I’ll just tell it. The first week we were there, they were going to be guests at the Red Bull Music Academy and then on the Tuesday night, it was going to be Otis and Chemist in a club. And then the Sunday night, I believe, was going to be Babu and J. Rocc.

Cut Chemist and Madlib was at more of a mainstream club. I was nervous like, “Fuck, they booked them there? That’s crazy.” It was called Mood. When we pick up Otis from the fucking airport, I just told him, I said, “You know you’re DJing fucking Tuesday, bro.” Just say this was a Thursday. I said, “You know you’re DJing Tuesday?” [He said,] “Yeah, I know, I know.” [I asked,] “Where’s your records?” This is before he was fucking with CDJs. I was like, “Where’s the records?” He was like, “Man, I’m going to buy records.” I’m like, “Wow, this guy is fucking crazy.” Okay, all right. No problem. I’m thinking, “He’s going to be borrowing J Rocc’s shit. It’s going to be a fucking joke.” Fuck that, dude. By fucking Monday, that fool had three or four crates, and that fool had made a gang of beats and he had made a fucking DJ set.

Because he was buying everything. Like I said, he wasn’t just buying Brazilian shit. He was buying James Brown shit too, whatever. We go to the club and my heart, man, I swear to God, I was fucking terrified. Place was rammed and it didn’t look like our kind of crowd. It was more mainstream. It was a lot. I’d only been in Brazil two or three weeks at that point, and I was like, “Fuck. I hope this works out.” Sure as fuck, here comes Otis. First fucking track out the bag, man, a fucking Gal Costa song. There was Brazilian women starting to weep and shit. People started tripping at the notion that their hero, this mystical figure from the fucking hip-hop scene in the United States, come in front of them and play their parents’ records back to them was too much. People started freaking out. It was fucking nuts.

People have different responses to Otis, man. Because Otis likes to push the envelope. He’s very much a man about being free. That’s always been his thing. The music is in him. However it comes out is the way it’s supposed to be. But that night, man, wow. That’s the kind of DJ I want to be. I want to be the kind of DJ that just fucking opens people up to their own shit… Imagine opening up people to their own shit. It was like they knew the music, but they had never heard it before. It was like, “I know this, but I’ve never heard it.” Because you’ve never seen nobody from outside come put the mirror back on you. And that’s what he did. It was extraordinary.

This is the thing you got to know about Otis. I don’t know whether it’s because he’s from Oxnard, which in many respects, in terms of Los Angeles, you might as well say you’re from fucking Stockton or fucking Arizona or something… It’s just like, “Where?” Of course people know now, but in them days, it was like, “Huh,” or “What?” And then he came from a very, very [musical family]… His uncle’s John Faddis. His father’s an R&B singer, Otis Senior. In terms of the music, he had figured out his own way.

Now Cut and them… Cut’s a fucking beast. We’re talking top five diggers of their generation type of people. And I’m not taking anything away, but there is a more systematic, hive mentality thing around the way that Cut and Egon, for example—and you can see in Brasilintime J. Rocc and Otis laughing at them—but there was just shit that they didn’t know. They didn’t know about the soundtracks to the telenovelas, for example. If you’ve seen the DOOM record, there’s a couple of them samples or loops that come from telenovelas, Brazilian soap opera soundtracks. Somehow fucking Otis knew about that shit.

Did he know about Gal Costa and the other Brazilian artists he ended up sampling before going there?

B+: He didn’t. He just had a different approach to it than all of us. Otis is really an enigma in the sense that, we’d all be out shopping. All the stores had record players, so people would make a pile and then we’d all, one by one, go up to the record player, put on the headphones and needle drop our way through our little stack and make a smaller stack and go buy it. Otis would make a big stack and I’d say, “You’re not going to listen to that shit?” [He’d say,] “Nope.” I said, “Well, why you’re not going to listen to this shit?” [He said,] “Because I’m the one that makes these records dope.” We’re out here trying to find dope records. He’s like, “No, I make them dope,” and it’s just like, “Fuck you, dude,” you know what I mean?

I know this is what he did with other records, but I’m assuming in Brazil too, he would just take his crate back and then while he’s listening, he’s making beats straight away. The idea really is that it don’t need to be a dope record. It’s what I’m about to do with it that’s it’s about to make you want this record. I’m about to do something to this record that’s going to make you want it. No collector, no researcher, no ethnomusicologist, none of those people can make a record dope. They just fucking find it and they venerate it and they tell you how rare it is and whatever. In the end, the person who’s really going to make you want the fucking thing is Otis because Otis is going to make you nod, make you feel it in your stomach, make you get excited. And then you’re going to be like, “Where did he get it?” And you’re going to go find it. To be honest with you, it’s not like the Azymuth records were super fucking rare or anything. They weren’t. They were all sitting right there.

They were on fucking Milestone or whatever, the label out of Berkeley. That’s who distributed them in the US. All them records were sitting there. And to us, our ears at that time, we who were looking for the Idris Muhammad or the Paul Humphreys or whatever, the Azymuth shit sounded like fusion. We were trying to avoid fusion. That shit sounded too 80’s for us. Otis was like, “Nah, listen again.” By the end of that first trip, we had all bought the entire Azymuth catalog. I was like, “Yeah, all the fucking Azymuth shit. Oh my God.” And then there was those Azymuth albums that had come out only in Brazil so we were happy to be able to pick them up and they weren’t even expensive in them days. You could pick them records up for a penny. They weren’t expensive.

Of course, after that first trip is where the shit got weird because after the first trip, the word got out. Suddenly, all these influencer—which wasn’t even a term yet in those days—DJs start to play Brazilian music in their sets and now suddenly there’s a fucking run on Brazilian shit. By the time we went back the second time, all the hot records were suddenly hot prices now too. Otis had made the records “dope.”

On that trip, Otis was working. Obviously, because he was working on them both at the same time, but he had the Jaylib as well and I think our name for that fucking DOOM record was MadDOOM before it became Madvillain. Otis gave us both records. They were both on my fucking iTunes and we were listening to that shit a lot. And basically what ended up happening is he made this tape that he was happy with of just beats, end to end, and then when he got back to LA, he transferred the whole thing to a CD and he sent it to DOOM. And apparently, DOOM sent the entire thing back with raps over the entire thing and then that became the second phase of the record, basically.

The first phase of the record… did that version leak while you were all in Brazil?

B+: Basically, yes. I have some theories about that shit. But I’ll be honest with you, bro. I didn’t even know how to fucking upload music at that time. You have to imagine, it’s 2001 or 2002. Yeah, Napster existed but Napster wasn’t… I mean, I guess Napster was open source and people were figuring it out but I mean, we were in fucking dial-up world. That hotel, you had to plug an ethernet cable into the side of your computer, and it was a phone number. We didn’t do it… but is there a possibility that somebody snaked that music off my computer? Yeah, that’s a possibility. In any event, myself and Eric got the blame.

In retrospect, it was the best thing that ever happened to Stones Throw. In retrospect, those records are what saved Stones Throw and many people say those records are what saved underground hip-hop. This fucking mistake or not mistake or whatever the fuck. Wolf blamed me and Eric. Wolf fixed it with Eric. I was always a bit sour over it. I always felt it was really unfair. But Wolf blamed us basically for uploading the fucking music. When it turned out to be that successful, it’s not like he ever came back and fucking thanked us either… But I mean, yeah, of course by the time everybody heard it was like, “Oh my God, this is the most important thing to happen in a long time in the culture,” and yeah, it became the record that it did.

Do you have any memories of the beats that Madlib made in Brazil that ended up on the final record?

B+: As many songs he made down there, pretty much all the Brazilian ones [ended up on Madvillainy]. Basically the bones of the second phase came from shit he did in Brazil. That’s not to say that he didn’t add other things also. I mean, obviously he added “Accordion.” There’s Osmar Milito. There’s definitely two or three big, gnarly, Brazilian samples on there that were totally made there. And then there was a few more that come out after Madvillian had come out that were also made in Brazil. But yeah, fucking trippy shit, man. I mean, it’s trippy now in retrospect to think of how all that shit became so important.

Do you see any similarities between what you do and what Madlib does in terms of making connections between music and introducing people to music from a certain place or time in a way they might not have been thinking about it.

B+: I mean, that’s what hip hop does, bro. I mean, Otis does it incredibly well.

I feel like he does it in a very specific manner.

B+: He does. He does. No, I agree with you on that. He does. I mean, he’s ferocious, really. He’s one of these people that’s just ravenous when it comes to music. He gets in a bag and then he goes down the rabbit hole and then he just reemerges or whatever. That’s how he was around Brazil at that time. The funny thing was that he had done the album of covers of Azymuth songs before we told him that we were going to go to Brazil and that we wanted him to go. When we were talking about going to Brazil, he’s like, “Oh, what?” I was like, “Yeah, we’re talking about going to Brazil with Red Bull,” blah, blah, blah.

He had done a few gigs with us already for the Keepintime thing and we were close. In them days, we used to all go to the same clubs. He’s just a great character, man. He’s just a beautiful guy. He was like, “Yo, I got something for you.” I was like, “All right.” He was like, “I want to work with this guy.” That’s how Mamao—Ivan Conti—became the first drummer on the Brazilian side. He was like, “This guy, dude,” and we were like, “Okay.” That was the first modern Brazilian dude that we were like, “We’re looking for him.” [Otis] had already done that on his own. He didn’t even know we were going to go to fucking Brazil. He had done that on his own, because that’s when he was starting to learn to play instruments, was in that same period. And obviously, it’s a very productive period too for Otis. He had the vibes and then he had a Rhodes and he had a drum kit.

He was just figuring shit out by playing along with it and making recordings of it. He did an Azymuth record, and we were like, “Holy shit, we need to play it for Mamao when we go there.” In the film, you’ll see us play it for my Mamao, and he starts singing along. He’s just listening to it and in his eyes, he’s just like, “Whoa, crazy,” because they’re not the kind of group that too many people cover, honestly, which is wild. But for him to hear a cover of them by some hip-hop producer in LA, it was just like, “What the fuck?” But he was really excited. It was funny, because he’s a beautiful figure, man. Mamao was one of my favorite people. We all call him our uncle. He’s like your favorite uncle, basically.

There’s a generosity of spirit. There’s an abundance of that in Brazil. Not everybody has it, but there’s a lot of generosity of spirit there, and Mamao was a wonderful example of this. The guy that’s always in a good mood and a good vibe, and is open. He’s like, “Oh, okay, I’ll check it out.” And he heard it, and you just seen the bells going off and a smile come on his face and he’s just like, “Shit, okay. I never heard our shit like this!” It’s beautiful. It was beautiful.

When [Madlib + Mamao] had a chance to meet… Man… Otis has social anxiety. He started freaking out and Mamao was like, “Man, it’s so good to see you. Wow, this is fantastic.” Then they did the record together eventually. It took a while, but we got them together in the studio and they did a record together. It was beautiful. They were in the studio for Mamao to record the drums, and then Otis did his part at the house.

How did you end up meeting Madlib and the Stones Throw guys and getting that close with them?

B+: I knew Wolf because Wolf used to work for our record distributor in the Bay Area. I knew of him first and eventually got to know him somewhere in the early to mid-90s. To be honest with you, the way I really, really cemented it was… The very first Quasimoto single came out. I was at Fat Beats, and I heard it. I was like, “Fuck, I got to work for these dudes.” I had his number. I don’t know how I had his number, but I had his number and I texted him and I said, “Yo, I just heard that new Quas. Whatever the fuck you guys need, I’m here.” And I already had like… I don’t want to say a fucking sizable career, but I had quite a few notches on my belt before Stones Throw ever showed up.

They knew who I was, and they knew I was somebody serious and that I had done a bunch of album covers, and that I was somebody who meant something in our world already. And so, he was real excited then. He got excited, like, “Oh shit,” and then eventually they told us like, “Yeah, we’re going to move to LA.” Eric really was the one that convinced him that they should come and live in Highland Park, which is our side of town because when they first come to LA, those folks were living by the airport, dude. I was like, “Why are you guys all the way over here? It’s fucking stupid.” Eric was the one then that was like, “No, come on. I’ll help you guys find a house.” I think him and Wolf drove around, and that’s how they found that house.

It was more on some homie shit really than anything, man. Do you know anybody that was doing anything interesting? Far be it from me, man, I’ll just pick up the phone and call them and tell them, “Yo, that’s fucking amazing. What the fuck you’re doing? That’s crazy. If you ever need me, I’m here, bro.” Of course, half the people don’t call you back, but some of the best working relationships I’ve ever had has come from that. Then through Wolf, I met Egon. I met fucking Otis, basically. The Loot Pack was a hot record, no matter what way you looked at it.

We were all hyped to fucking meet him and he’s such a unique character. Around that time, we started to see him a lot. Then fairly quickly, we become drinking buddies and co-conspirators, basically. Some funny motherfuckers. And record heads. Me and Otis always had the record heads thing because Otis is… Like I said, in them days, it was all about breaks and it was all secret knowledge and all this shit. But it was very, I don’t know, it was in-group bullshit.

And everyone wanted the same stuff, like you said.

B+: Yeah, everyone’s looking for the same fucking 30 records. But I’ve never gave a shit about that. The real thrill is to find something that’s yours. Something that… I’m the one that turned that up, you know what I’m saying? Well, fucking Brazil was the case in point. We definitely all turned up some shit, but Otis really turned up some shit. I mean, Otis… that’s all he does. You ain’t going to meet too many people that can do it the way he does it. I’ll just put it that way. I’ve seen cats, you know what I mean? I have a long career of working with DJ Shadow, who is one of the most fucking intense record collectors I’ve ever seen. Dante Carfagna and Cut Chemist and all them dudes. But Otis, that’s a whole other thing. It’s really a whole other thing.

It is. Even the Daedalus sample on Madvillainy, just the fact that he could hear that and then elevate that to even another level and just-

B+: Oh, he don’t give a fuck. It’s not like, “Oh, there’s this period that we’re looking for because that’s hot right now.” No, he don’t give a fuck about that. That fool, he was buying hip-hop records down there. He was buying all kinds of shit. Who the fuck is trying to buy Brazilian hip-hop in them days? Nobody. Otis was. His aesthetic is very broad and generous and as a result, his ears are… I mean, he’s really a u*cking… I don’t, whatever, throw around the G words and shit, but the motherfucker is pretty incredible, man. I don’t know.

Speaking of g words. Eric Coleman shot DOOM for the Madvillainy album cover. Were you around for those sessions?

B+: No, let me explain that to you. What initially happened was Egon asked me would I do Jaylib and would I do MF DOOM [album covers]? I was like, “Of course, no problem.” I mean, Dilla was sick. That shit u*cking kept getting rescheduled and rescheduled and then getting fucking DOOM and Otis in the same room at the same time was like fucking trying to get Jimmy Hendrix and Miles Davis in the room at the same time.

It was the second or third time that they tried to schedule [the Madvillainy photo shoot]. I got offered a gig to go to Cuba. I think it was fucking Cuba. I could be wrong. Anyway, I got offered a gig that had meant I would have to travel. When I was going to travel, I said, “Look, maybe.” I told Egon the same thing, “If this really goes down, man, fucking Eric got that shit. Don’t even worry about it. Eric will fucking kill it.”

It was one of those things too, where me and Eric were partners, for real. We would assist each other but I always felt like he never really got enough shine as a shooter. He’s fucking amazing. Probably one of the most amazing photographers I’ve ever seen. He’s an absolute fucking natural and he’s an amazing photographer. But generally, I had the name just because I’ve been in the game longer. So cats would call for me. I was completely comfortable with the notion that, “Yeah, man, let Eric fucking handle that shit.” Of course, now, in retrospect, I’m just like, “Fuuuck.” It’s such an important [album]…

But you know what? If I would’ve done it, would it have been as dope? Maybe not. But there was something, and I’m sure Eric will explain this to you better, but there is a real relationship there between him and DOOM that I didn’t have with DOOM. DOOM showed up out of nowhere and rapped at Eric’s birthday party once. Really him rapping, at Eric’s birthday. You know what I mean? There was a real affinity there between Eric and DOOM that was very real and very wonderful and it was just a different vibe. But we both shot them afterwards. We both shot Otis and DOOM together. Maybe once the record was out six or eight months, they all were going to meet together and I said, “I’m coming by. Fuck y’all.”

And I shot, and Eric shot. My photos ended up in Wax Poetics. Eric’s photos ended up on the second iteration of Madvillainy. His photos came out on that. Then I ended up shooting the photos for DANGERDOOM. But by that point, we were all friends. I remember meeting DOOM in that era long before that, when he first started to come to LA. I remember going out one night, and Muro was DJing at a bar in Hollywood. I went in and I seen him with Rhettmatic and… I think it was Rhett and M.E.D. or somebody. We’re standing there with this dude, and they were like, “Yo, yo, B.” I was like, “Yo, what’s up? What’s up, fellas,” and he was like, “Yo, this is DOOM.” And I was just like, “Oh, shit, what’s up, man?” And he was like, “Yo, I’ve been hearing a lot about you, man. People saying good things,” whatever, whatever. I mean, I have to be honest, I’ll never forget it because I really admired… I mean, I had seen KMD when they were still Ansaari. When they were still wearing all white. I’d seen them perform in Hollywood at the Palladium when I first moved from Ireland, opening up for De La with Leaders and Brand Nubian, or Brand Nubian without Puba.

I was aware of KMD since them days and loved them. It took a while for folks to put two and two together that [DOOM] was the same dude [as Zev Love X], but I had followed KMD very closely obviously. The mainstream story was Ice-T Cop Killer, but the underground story was what happened to KMD. Honestly, man, when fucking Al Gore and his wack wife were fucking coming for fucking rap music… They got fucking Subroc’s blood in their fucking hands, as far as I’m concerned, man. There’s a lot of damage done by those people for fucking nothing. People that were murderers in their own right, done terrible things of the world, and they came for these people who done fuck all to anybody.

But anyways, I had followed all that shit. I had the bootlegs and tried to pick up the European pressing and all that nonsense. But those 12 inches that Bobito put out were… I mean, I remember me and Eric one night at a club saying to Otis and Wolf like, “Yo, y’all need to do something with this dude.”


B+: Yeah! I’m sure I wasn’t the only one that said that. In that world of indie hip-hop, Fat Beats’ world, those records were foundational. They were genre-changing. The blatancy of the samples. The way he was rapping. The way the rhyme schemes were working. What he was actually talking about, and the notion of this mysterious figure. All of those things together resonated in ways that… When you hear people talk about the first time they heard those records, it’s some life-changing shit. Otis had his shit too. For a lot of people, for example, that Blue Note record that Otis did was a real fucking brain melt for people. Those Yesterday New Quintet records in that moment where it’s just like, “Wait, what?”

For me, it was Blunted in the Bomb Shelter that blew my mind.

B+: Which is the precursor in many respects to the Blue Note record. I mean, that’s why the Blue Note dudes were like, “Oh, well, maybe this might work.” But we were all around in them days. So the notion of meeting him and the fact that he knew who I was for me was very touching. He was always like that. He’s just such a kind, sweet dude. He’s funny, chaotic, a fucking storm in a bottle dude. Like, craziness at all times. But then as a person, as a human being, he was definitely somebody with very little ego, who was incredibly sweet actually. Always happy to see you. We had fun with that dude, man.

He’s a funny dude, man. He’s the type of dude that would show up here. He would double park the car outside, or what they say in Ireland, my father would say, “He abandoned the car.” He’d throw the car and park and just open the fucking door and come into the house and I’d be like, “Dude, your car is out in the middle of the street!”
But he’d come in the house and be like, “You heard Caetano?” I was like, “Caetano, who?” “Caetano! Brazilian dude! You heard him? Check this shit out,” and then he play you something and be super fired up. Play the record. Then he’d let you play a few bits. “Woo, I like that. I like this, I like that. All right, man.” Boom. Done. Puff of smoke, gone. That’s the dude that he was. Crazy energy. Incredible fucking imagination.

Both of them dudes are, I don’t know, man. I mean, I’m just out here being a photographer. The heights that those cats have reached in terms of the music, it’s up to the future generations to decide just how crazy it is, but it’s the baddest shit that I’ve seen-

It’s already living on in the future generations.

B+: I get it. Yeah. With Dilla, too. [Dilla] was very different than them two. Otis and DOOM were like two brothers that were constantly egging each other on to do crazier shit, whereas Dilla was very different. Dilla was a much more controlled and curious, Detroit dude, basically. Funny as fuck. He was very much a man of regimen and routine. I mean, motherfucking Dilla was buried with his duster, dude. I mean, okay, the drum machine is in the Smithsonian. What’s in the coffin? Motherfucking duster, bro. It was because you could go to his house and it would be like you could eat the food off the floor and you’d be fine, because everything was fucking immaculate.

Now, Otis and DOOM? … Chaos. They were opposites. But then when it comes to the music, they completely understood each other and it was just magic. There’s something magical about that triangulation there. If the business had worked out differently, if Dilla’s health wasn’t in such rapid decline, I mean, I don’t know… There was definitely a lot more music there to be made, that’s for sure.

I’m 30 right now, so I knew MF DOOM first and then went backwards to KMD and the first DOOM 12-inches. How long did it take for people to realize who DOOM was, and how did that add to the mythology of it early on?

B+: The heads knew pretty much off the bat. The heads knew, to the point where it wasn’t some crazy secret. Heads knew. But you could safely say it was in the first 12 months because as soon as… I think it was three singles, three twelves before Operation Doomsday

Yeah, it was “Hey,” “Gas Drawls,” and “Dead Bent.”

B+: Yes, exactly. Exactly. I have all three of them and I even have a photo series called called Greenbacks, which is off one of them twelves. But the thing was that by the time the album dropped, it was some fucking game changer shit. People were on that shit. People were desperately on that shit.

Because the visual aspect of both Madlib and DOOM’s music is so connected to the sound of it… For example, part of the reason Madvillainy is so legendary is that it showed people DOOM’s face. He’s behind the mask, but with this almost sinister look on his face. What do you think the relationship is between the visual side of things and the music for those two artists?

B+: I think for different reasons, they are both very careful about the way their image is presented in the public. There’s a good fucking eight or nine years there, man, where maybe there’s only a handful of us that ever got to shoot fucking Otis, for example. Same with DOOM. It wasn’t like there was mad photoshoots. They’re not the type of people that were beholden to the notion of getting your picture in every newspaper. They really weren’t into that.

In DOOM’s case, it’s less of a shy person or somebody with social anxiety. In DOOM’s case, it was more conceptual. It was really about finding a way to make artwork that didn’t necessarily have to tie to him and his body, because he’s thinking, “You already saw just how catastrophic that could be.”

In Otis’s case, it’s really about somebody who’s not entirely comfortable in themselves. There was this famous LA Club that used to happen on a Sunday afternoon called the Do Over. Started in the early 2000’s and went on for 10 or 15 years. Otis was somebody who was always there, but he would go and he would stand in the same corner away from everybody. If you knew him and you wanted to talk to him, then you’d have to go over there. That’s just how he is. He’s somebody who… that shit is not important to him. When you get to that point, then it becomes important that if you don’t want to hang it on the notion of your face or your body, you have to find other ways to generate imagery. Both of them, all three of them actually, have been relatively lucky in a sense that when you make music that’s that strong and make music that’s conceptually that solid and has already visual cinematic aspects to it, a good visual artist will find their way to you.

DOOM is a visual artist in his own right though. As somebody who draws, somebody who’s really interested in the way that stuff works, it honestly works. Obviously I’m biased, but Otis and Dilla both ended up with a very interesting visual legacy actually. It’s interesting.

Were you around Madvillainy specifically? There were only a couple of times you mentioned that they were actually in the same room together and I know you were gone for one of those, but were you ever around when they were together?

B+: I was there at the time we shot them in the backyard, which was really funny. They’re just goofy and two, very weirdly, uncomfortable in front of the cameras type of dudes.

About Madvillainy in particular, either in the process of that Brazil trip or at any point that you heard the album or the finished version, are there any standout memories or tracks that you connected with?

B+: Oh man, I mean, there’s a lot, man. I have to be honest. I mean, there’s a lot of moments in that. There’s a lot of lines that just will send me spinning, you know what I mean, if I bust out the record here and just start playing it. I’ll get sad and shit.

“Accordion” was always, to me, something extraordinary. It’s a couple of things. I love how he raps on it. I love the fact that it’s an accordion because at that time, I spent a lot of time in Colombia rediscovering the fucking power of the accordion. I always thought it was goofy, but one of my favorite memories is seeing him perform the record live at the Henry Fonda Theater in LA and seeing DOOM stop rapping for a second and was like, “Yo, B+,” just totally shout me out. I was in the pit doing my thing. Trust me, I’ve done this for 30 years. I’ve been in that fucking space many, many, many times with people I know very, very well on the stage and nobody ever just stopped the whole thing and it was 2000 people going fucking mental and crazy ass DOOM was like, “Yo B+.” I was just like. “Fuck.” Oh man, that was special times.

I’m getting sad talking about him but that record, it’s funny because for us, I think Operation Doomsday was really, as far as the notion of DOOM, the full 360. The beats, the interludes, everything. If I really would’ve stopped and thought about it, I would’ve been intimidated for Otis trying to do something to top it. But never fear.

But somehow I think that pushed him. Well, I guess he was making beats that way anyways. Not necessarily just for DOOM, as I know he was just taking beats just for himself but-

B+: But I think their banter and their capacity to push each other, and Otis’s capacity to really fucking take things apart and not pay any attention to the normal structures of music and really do things that were pretty fucking avant-garde in terms of the music, allowed DOOM to go places that maybe DOOM wouldn’t have been able to get to in his own head. I think that’s the beauty of collaboration, really, is that it allows you to fly into other ways.

Yeah, and he didn’t have to produce for himself.

B+: No, and I mean, Otis created the structure. I mean, you know fucking DOOM. DOOM just rapped end to end. He’ll just rap over the whole shit. He don’t give a fuck. Fuck a hook, fuck anything, I’ll just rap over the whole shit. Otis’ll take that back and make sense out of it. To have somebody to be that deep with you and be in the trenches with you and respect you that much… Because you got to imagine too, Otis is quite a bit younger than DOOM… DOOM’s closer to my age, whereas Otis would be, I don’t say he’s 10 years younger than me, but he might be 10 years younger than me. Yeah, it’s close, something like 10 years younger than me. I don’t know what year Otis is born. I think he was born in ’73.

Yeah, I think they’re only two years apart.

B+: Oh, they’re only two years apart? Oh, okay. Shit, my bad.

Madlib seems a lot younger, for some reason. I agree with you.

B+: Younger in the game, I guess. But I guess it’s true, because fucking KMD, they were only teenagers.

Yeah, that makes sense. But there was definitely the sense that DOOM was the veteran. That Otis was the new guy. It’s very special, man. Anyways, bro, I got to go pick up my kid. Good luck [on the book]. Make it good, bro.

Thank you. I appreciate it.

B+: Aspire to making it as good as the damn record.

Yeah, I’m trying, but we’ll see.

B+: No, no, no. Just try. Don’t worry about it. No “We’ll sees.” Just go as hard as you can.

But now that you mentioned accordions and learning about accordions, I’m thinking I got to write a book on accordions.

B+: Bro, there’s a book to be written, I’ll tell you that. The first synthesizer is the accordion.

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