Madvillain – ‘Madvillainy’: Round 39 – Rob’s choice

Mavilliany by MadvillainGenuinely successful comebacks are pretty rare in music. Whilst Daniel Dumile may not have topped the charts first time around with his pals KMD, their debut on 3rd Bass’s legendary ‘The Gas Face’ counts as significant success in my book. The way the London-born rapper later vanished and reappeared next counts as remarkable.

In 1993 KMD’s second album ‘Black Bastards’ was rejected by Elektra and the outfit were dropped. All this mere days after Dumile’s brother Dingilizwe, aka fellow KMD member DJ Subroc, was hit and killed by a car in New York. Dumile spent the next few years in the wilderness living “damn near homeless” before making tentative steps back via open mic nights, hiding his identity behind rudimentary masks.

By the time he made it to 2004 he was the metal-masked MF DOOM, partnering producer MadLib on ‘Madvillainy’ and gatecrashing the top ten of Pitchfork’s end of year list, the same website later naming the album the 25th best of the decade. The record is as intriguing as the backstory.

Hailed by some as ‘indie rap’, and dismissed by others as ‘indie rap’, ‘Madvillainy’ is poorly served by the label no matter from which direction it’s being applied. It’s a complex, layered swirl of beats, samples, sweeping supervillain soundeffects and deadpan wordplay. It contains as much straight head-nodding hip-hop as it does smoke-filled flights of fancy. DOOM’s rhymes and Madlib’s beats seem to have been born for each other. The rhythm track and scratchy instrumental curlicues stagger and step slipping into and out of sync with DOOM’s flat and woozy flow creating between them a sound which manages simultaneously to be comforting and disorienting.

And the ideas keep on coming. With 22 tracks crammed into 46 minutes for me ‘Madvillainy’ is the hip-hop equivalent of ‘Bee Thousand’. The songs go on as long as they  merit and then they move on to something else. If that means laying down just a beat and a single verse, then so be it. The result is bewildering, impossible to pin down, sprinkled with transcendent moments and never ever dull.

And like the GBV masterpiece, the more you listen, the more you get back. I don’t listen to a huge amount of hip-hop. ‘Madvillainy’ makes me realise what I might be missing out on, but it’s also one of the reasons I don’t feel compelled to look much further.

Tom Listened: When Rob likened Madvillainy to Bee Thousand I mentally strapped myself in expecting a much bumpier ride than actually transpired. I can see where he’s coming from in drawing this likeness but where as Bee Thousand sounds spontaneous, tangential and extremely discombobulating at first, I found Madvillainy quite accessible, considered and straightforward in comparison. I don’t think I’ll ever feel compelled to buy it (but I remember saying the same thing about Captain Beefheart when I first heard him) but I enjoyed the listen and have come to the conclusion that ‘Indie Rap’ is where I’m currently at in my appreciation of Hip-Hop.

Graham Listened: After warming so to Death Grips, from Rob’s introduction I wondered if this might be a little “tame” for a “bad-ass” like myself. But no, there were plenty of accessible/commercial sounding hooks and beats to cling on to, broken up by clever “off piste” moments that stimulate, rather than irritate. Other than what I have learned at DRC, I know nothing about this type of genre, but I’m willing to find out more.

Nick listened: I’ve owned Madvillainy for years, pretty much since it came out, but never fully got to grips or fallen in love with it: it came out as my interest in hip hop was waning after a couple of years of being fascinated by the more commercial end of the genre (Missy Elliot, Jay-Z, Neptunes) with occasional divergences into more modernist, sci-fi, techno-influenced stuff (Cannibal Ox and other Def Jux stuff, essentially). I’ve been intending to delve into it again properly for some time, as it was a big favourite with a lot of people whose taste I respect. Listening now, it was strikingly turntable and sampler based, and the short songs, abstract lyrics, and absence of dancefloor-aimed beats mark it out as something very different to Timbaland and Missy: it’s a real head-nodder. I’m going to need to spend a lot more time with it before I can form a proper opinion.

Beastie Boys – Paul’s Boutique: Round 22 – Nick’s choice

I’ve been amassing a pile of albums that I want to bring to Devon Record Club – old favourites, new crushes, canonical bugbears, sound-qua-sound obscurities – over recent weeks, and there’s now a stack of 20+ CDs on my shelves, enough to power through a whole year of meetings, unless we get theme-happy. Even then, I reckon I can probably gerrymander something from the pile in somehow.

Paul’s Boutique was pretty much at the top of the pile. My favourite Beasties album (just eclipsing Check Your Head and then Ill Communication), I bought it when I was about 16 or 17, after a rash of bands I liked at the time (95/96) seemed to namecheck it an inordinate amount – Noel Gallagher, The Charlatans, The Chemical Brothers, reams of other pseudo-funky quasi-Britpop also-rans. I knew Fight For Your Right To Party, obviously, and was aware that Beastie Boys had a certain cache amongst very, very cool people, but by and large I didn’t really get why.

After the obscene success of Licence To Ill, the Beasties ran away from NYC, scared of what they’d achieved and become at such a young age (lest we forget the go-go dancers in cages on stage), and holed up in LA with The Dust Brothers, DJs who’d been making sample-based, instrumental hip hop tracks which the trio had become fans of. The Dust Brothers thought the tracks they’d been making were too dense, too busy, too layered with crazy samples and juxtapositions to be rapped over, but the Beasties insisted that they didn’t want anything more minimal; they loved the sound collages, and wanted to weave themselves into them.

The result is an album which is essentially a love song to the Beasties’ estranged home city of NYC, from the sleeve to the samples to the innumerable lyrical references to the places and people and pop culture they’d grown up with. The rich, heavy, sample-woven music, which the Beasties’ voices are intricately intertwined with, is a pretty psychedelic experience, like a beat-heavy, hip hop, spot-the-reference recreation of the second side of Abbey Road, mixing hugely familiar moments of music (from Johnny Cash to Curtis Mayfield to The Isley Brothers to The Beatles to Sly And The family Stone to so much else) with the sounds of every day city life, ping pong matches, drive-by robberies, skits about eggs, stories about New Yorkers. It’s the opposite of Tom’s choice; so dense that half a lifetime later on I’m still catching new lyrical references, googling names I don’t know, recognising samples from old music I’m newly familiar with since the last time I played it.

There isn’t much out there like Paul’s Boutique – Endtroducing and Since I Left You use samples in a similar way, but do something different in spirit; for the Beastie Boys, the samples and lyrics perform the same bewildering function. Changes to copyright law regarding sampling mean that no one can ever make an album like this again; but the sheer quality of the record makes it unlikely that anyone would be abloe to, anyway.

In short, Paul’s Boutique is a trip, it’s got a funky beat, and I can bug out to it. Perfect.

Tom Listened: For me, at some point during the 90s The Beastie Boys went from being an annoyance to a possibility to a treasure. I can’t quite remember the chain of events but, as usual, I think the catalyst in my change of mindset must have been the overwhelming acclaim that Check Your Head and (belatedly) Paul’s Boutique were getting from the press and from fellow artists. So I decided to buy my brother Check Your Head for his birthday. Curious to hear an album but not enough to get it for yourself…buy it for someone else’s birthday and then ‘borrow’ it, for a long, long time.

Well, I loved Check Your Head and it is still my favourite Beastie Boys album. Listening to Paul’s Boutique at record club made me realise just how much more accessible it is. The songs on Check Your Head are more straightforward – there are fewer unexpected twists and turns and it’s less packed in with everything and the kitchen sink. I’m not saying CYH is the better album but I know it much better (although I have had PB in my collection for probably a dozen years I have never felt I really know it) and that certainly helps. With this in mind, it was great to hear Paul’s Boutique the other night and I will certainly be pulling it out aplenty in the forthcoming months and attempting to unpick its bizarre tapestry of sound.

Rob listened: My brother handled hip-hop in our house. ‘Licensed to Ill’ was pretty important for him and I have fond memories of rotating it with ‘Yo! Bum Rush The Show’ and ‘Album’ by Public Image Limited whilst we played darts in his room. By the time ‘Paul’s Boutique’ came out we’d both moved on. It’s worth recalling that it arrived to no real fanfare, to general bafflement in fact. My sense is that it was only with ‘Check Your Head’ that commentators began to recognise the trajectory the Beastie Boys were on and the give them the credit they deserved as innovators and creative spirits. Still, I didn’t come back to them until ‘Ill Communication’.

I’d never heard ‘Paul’s Boutique’ until this evening because, if i’m honest, whilst I admire what they do, I never find myself reaching for them. I don’t know why. I do find that the constant yapping voices create a wall of interference between me and the often compelling music. I guess I also find them a little too hipster. I dunno. Feel srtangely guilty even writing this. I’m extremely glad that the Beastie Boys exist. I enjoyed hearing the album and totally understand why it belongs in the canon. But once again, I can’t imagine i’ll invest much time in it. I might go back and listen to ‘She’s On It’ again though.

Graham listened: I’m old enough to vaguely recall jumping about in nightclubs to the singles from the first Beastie’s album. But to badly quote Public Enemy, “I didn’t believe the hype”, which put me off the band for many years. I’ve heard this before and it didn’t fit with what I expected then, but listening again this is so deep and multi-layered that it simply demands I spend more time with it. If I finally get this one, who knows where it might lead?