Few musicians can match hip hop producer and crate-digger Madlib’s prolific output, an eccentric mix of hip hop, rap, jazz, and weird vocal samples picked from old records and VHS tapes. Like many musical geniuses, he’s released music under many guises over the last two decade. Records by Lootpack, Madvillain, Quasimoto, Yesterday’s New Quintet, The Medicine Show, Dudley Purkins – they’re all produced by the reclusive Madlib, who’s making his first appearance in China this Saturday at The Shelter.
It’s the sound of dusty, vinyl-sampled drums, Saturday morning cartoons and cereal, conversations with drunken vagrants at bustops, vocoders, and just good underground hip hop. It’s not always quantized and that’s part of the charm. I’ve been a fan for ten years and have listened to the Madvillainy and The Further Adventures of Lord Quas LPs literally hundreds of times and never gotten bored.
For the uninitiated, here’s a brief intro to Madlib’s world.
I spoke to Madlib via IP card on Martin Luther King Day, when he made a rare trip out of the studio for a BBQ.
Madlib: No, I’m at a BBQ.
Madlib: Martin Luther King Day BBQ. I ain’t cookin, I’m chillin.
Madlib: I guess cause I don’t call promoters, I wait for people to call me. I’m more of a studio person so whoever wants to see me, just call. I’m not a fan of airplanes anyway so I just wait to see who calls.
Madlib: Yeah, I’m just not in control, I gotta get super faded. You never know… airplanes.
Madlib: I think he’s already out there [laughs].
Madlib: No I haven’t [laughs], I got it at home. Is that movie ill?
Madlib: That’s dope, I’m down with that.
Madlib: I play CDs. I record vinyl onto CDs, and my studio music that’s not ever gonna come out. Unreleased beats, stuff you’ll never hear in the club. Even expect some Medicine show type joints. Crazy beats.
Madlib: [laughs] That’s crazy. Shit, I’ll come to your show too.
Madlib: I’ve been working on Freddy Gibbs’ project, also a project with Mos Def, a whole album, an album with my brother called The Professionals, all the regular stuff for the Medicine Show, Quasimoto, Madvillain... We got like 20 songs done for that but who knows when that’ll be done.
Madlib: Yeah I like it, it was cool.
Madlib: Just different weird records that came out in the 1960s when you just put out whatever, you know it wasn’t really a business you just put out some crazy music. I just go to different record stores looking for vocal samples. I did that for like a year for Madvillian; poetry, spoken word records, cartoon records. I’ve sampled off VCR.
Madlib: Yeah, sample off anything.
Madlib: Roland SP-303 or a CDJ. I make beats on a CDJ.
Madlib: I hook shit up with the little four or five pads.
Madlib: Yeah. I mean, it doesn’t matter. Keyboard or record, whatever I have to do. You can do anything on any little piece of equipment anyway. It’s the same basic things anyways. Programming, quantizing, all that stuff, on anything. I don’t care about the equipment. I try to switch it up. SP-303 was the one I was mostly using about five or six years ago. I might use an MPC for a beat or two, or something on my iPad.
Madlib: Yeah. Same ol’ thing, [it’s] basically what you put into it. But I kinda stick with the traditional shit, 16 track and chop shit up. CDJ, anything.
Madlib: I have most of the machines, even though I don’t use them. I buy everything. Crazy keyboards, like 40 keyboards. I got vintage things.
Madlib: Yeah, all the numbers. MPC4000, SP1200, Ableton if I need it.
Madlib: I’ve never used it. Basically the same thing, chopping things up, but easier.
Madlib: You know that. I’m about to dig through all types of weird shit.
Madlib: Wow, I’m gonna spend all my show money, come back broke [laughs].
Madlib: Yeah, I just buy extra luggage. I take it, I don’t care. I pay 100USD for it or something, and I put out some things and make a little money back anyway – gotta put something into it. I don’t let my records go. I usually just bring them with me.
Madlib: I have no idea… Three or four rooms? Tons, I got tons. All styles. I’m like everybody else, like all the other cratediggers.
Madlib: Naw, I use it now. I don’t use it as much as ya’ll, but I use it a little bit. I’m not on my email all day like ya’ll. I check that once a week.
Madlib: Oh yeah, all them apps… You get caught up with all them apps. It’s a studio now, on your phone, that’s crazy.
Madlib: Lot of people don’t like that one… You know, like some older cats, they’re like: “Why you do the music like that, chop it up like that, man?” My crazy heads like it; you must be crazy too.
Madlib: Yeah and ’cause I didn’t mix traditionally, you know, on beat. You know I can but I just choose to do it all crazy.
Madlib: I make mixtapes for the homies. Special mixtapes for the homies, whatever. Take like, a couple hours. As long as it takes to make the mixtape.
Madlib: Oh, that took like a couple days, off and on. That was a four-track mixtape. Made it on a four-track so I could edit it old-school style.
Madlib: That depends. I have some beats where it’s all playing and programming and vice-versa. And only certain things get out, you know. I do beat tapes for all kinds of things.
Madlib: Every day…
Madlib: Oh sure. Oh yes, oh yes. And if it’s wack you get to throw it out the window. There’s some shit I can listen to but that’s rare. Half the time I’m disappointed.
Madlib: Hmmm, I can’t really tell you, I don’t really listen to too much music, but I like Flying Lotus, Onra, Dilla, most of the West Coast LA beat dudes. I like Trinidad.
Madlib: Oh yeah.
Madlib: Yeah, I like all that.
Madlib: I have no idea. The commercial is still the commercial and the underground is still the underground.
Madlib: I’m Gay? Lil B? That dude, haha. I don’t know his music. I should but I don’t know it. I’m in my own world.
Madlib: [Pauses] Hmmm… If there was a fire I wouldn’t grab any records. I’d get my ass out. I got my records on CD. I’d get my ass out the spot. I ain’t running too fast, I just got to go. I’d go out there and buy more [records].
Madlib: All the important ones I make beats with.
Madlib: Naw, just respect. Come out to see the show, we gonna have some fun, I’m gonna drink and play some music. So yeah, whatever, let’s have some fun, come out there and tear it up.
Madlib plays The Shelter this Saturday night with former producer, label boss and best man Egon. Tickets are 120rmb in advance from KIN or The Shelter, or 160rmb on the door. Full info here. We say: Get there early if you want to buy tickets on the door.