Madlib covers the August 2009 issue of WIRED Magazine, in which he gives his first interview since 2006. StonesThrow put together a nice post of an excerpt from the interview. You can check it out after you hit the jump.
Prepare for a new yesterday, advises Madlib the former Lootpack MC who digs deep into his mental record crate to produce the wayward hip-hop of Quasimoto and the sample-libraries of Beat Konducta. Lisa Blanning hears about virtual one-man jazz bands, collaborations with J Dilla and Melvin Van Peebles, and his attempts to curate the past for music lovers of tomorrow. Photography by Jeremy & Claire Weiss
“My computer?” echoes Madlib incredulously. “I never use a computer. It’s too easy. It’s not easy to sound like Dilla, but you can make beats like Dilla with your computer, so that’s why everybody sounds like Dilla.” Madlib is in the middle of a European tour giving a rare interview – his first, in fact, since 2006. As we sit in his East London hotel room, I’m reminded that I’m talking to a man who doesn’t use the internet or email. “You gotta look me in the eye,” he explains. “That’s why people start arguing. You can be bold while you’re typing.”
Otis Jackson Jr – producer, rapper, musician, crate-digging antiquarian – was born in 1973 and raised in Oxnard, California, 60 miles west of his current base of Los Angeles. We can get a glimpse of what life in suburban Oxnard must have been like from Gilbert & Jaime Hernandez’s Love And Rockets comic books (Los Bros Hernandez are also from Oxnard, and many of their narratives are set there at the time young Otis was growing up). However, Madlib’s lineage immediately set him apart. Born into a family of musicians, including his father Otis Senior, a vocalist, bandleader and studio player, mother Sinesca, a songwriter and guitarist, and his uncle, jazz trumpeter Jon Faddis, he was exposed to the secret workings of music recording from an early age.
From such auspicious beginnings, Madlib has become one of the most diverse and prolific artists in hip-hop. He made his underground cross-genre breakthrough as his wayward, apocryphal alter-ego Quasimoto; and his other major projects include Beat Konducta’s curated collections of MC tools; his one- man virtual jazz band Yesterdays New Quintet and its spin-oils, in which he contributes drums, keyboards, bass and vibraphone; and his collaborations with the late J Dilla (Jaylib) and MF DOOM (Madvillain). Madlib’s work traverses modern-day hip-hop to an extent that few can claim, and his crate-digging has reached such depths as to make him a veritable crate in himself, providing others with scores of tracks to help construct their own tunes. Yet for all the success his workaholism has brought him, he is a reticent public figure. “I hate standing in front of a crowd and having to show myself,” he admits. “I’m a background dude.”
The ‘bad character’ of Quasimoto is his most popular face, but behind all his masks Madlib is a reasonable and intelligent man. “It’s all image,” he smiles. “I play around, it’s not serious. People take it seriously, but it’s just playful.”
Indeed, playfulness is the key to Madlib. When I spend a few post-interview hours with him and J Rocc – accomplished turntablist and the Funky President of LA’s Beat Junkies crew as well as Madlib’s friend – where we listen to an extraordinary amount of unreleased material (both by Madlib and by Dilla, whom they were both close to), the pair lose themselves in their own language, miming to tunes they are obviously very familiar with and joking endlessly, while constantly interrupting one tune to play another. It’s a gratifying experience, especially when I see that their public performance at London’s Fabric club the following night is almost exactly the same – only it’s happening in front of a thousand people. From the stage, Madlib keeps repeating that we’ll never hear these tracks again, and I believe him. “I’m more like a freestyle dude with beats,” he confesses. “I just make a beat, go to the next. Take whatever you have, whatever you pick up you gotta use.”
If you’re using whatever you pick up and you’re spending upwards of 12 hours a day in the studio, you end up with a massive amount of music. But, like his performance at Fabric, it’s apparent that Madlib would be doing this even if nobody else was there. “All the music I do, I have to like it,” he agrees. “1 wouldn’t really care if nobody else liked it. I just have to feel it first. I love that people like it, though. I wouldn’t really trip if nobody ever liked it, ’cause I’m doing it for my health first.”
But people do like it, as his record sales prove, not to mention a steadily growing queue of artists asking him to produce them: names like De La Soul, Ghostface KilIah, Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu and now Mos Def. Just this one facet of his work would constitute an entire career for most people.
To hear some of Madlib’s earliest appearances on record, though, you need to rewind to Lootpack’s first releases in 1998 for Peanut Butter Wolf’s Stones Throw Records, plus the trio’s appearance on Wolf’s own single of the same year, “Styles, Crews, Flows, Beats” – the start of a working relationship between Madlib and the California independent label that has lasted to this day. The following year, Stones Throw released Lootpack’s only album, Soundpieces: Da Antidote!, produced by Madlib and featuring himself and Wildchild as MCs. Soundpieces was a solid album by the Oxnard school friends and featured appearances from a number of underground West Coast hip-hop artists, such as Dilated Peoples and Tha Alkaholiks, as well as mixing-from Kut Masta Kurt. Lootpack looked set to swell the ranks of California’s healthy independent hip-hop community, but when Wolf persuaded Madlib to unleash his alter ego, Quasimoto (aka Lord Quas), it became obvious that Lootpack alone couldn’t contain all the producer’s ideas.
Although Quasimoto had made multiple supporting ‘appearances’ with Lootpack, he released his own album, The Unseen, in 2000. The project – which began as a private, psilocybin-fuelled joke never meant to be heard – quickly eclipsed Lootpack’s promising start. “The second album came out first,” Madlib confides, referring to The Unseen. “The first one never came out. The first one I was really just on ‘shrooms, bugging out like crazy.”
The reception for Quasimoto’s 2005 follow-up, the equally disjointed The Further Adventures Of Lord Quas, was less effusive, yet its uncompromising experimentalism and full-on weirdness makes the record a deeper and even more satisfying journey. The mood is more intense than the laid back bounce of The Unseen and the grooves are wider in scope, playing off his preoccupations with Prog and films such as the 1973 French sci-fi flick Fantastic Planet (La Planete Sauvage). Amid its false or alternative endings and silent-movie-like accompaniments there are tracks like the rhythmically complex “Players Of The Game”, a sobering examination of life in the music industry indexed to the richly harmonic, sliding stops of a bassline.
In the five years between the two Quasimoto albums, Madlib returned to his jazz roots with a project called Yesterdays New Quintet. While 2001′s Angles Without Edges may have been credited to a quintet – YNQ purported to have five members, each with their own personal histories – every note played and sample triggered was the work of Madlib. “I knew jazz before I knew hip-hop,” he reminds me, while pointing out that he always navigated his own personal route through the music when he was growing up. “Even though a lot of my family took lessons, I wanted to do my stuff a little different because) didn’t want it to sound like the regular thing. I’m still learning. I just want to show the progress, from a beginner to finally figuring it all out.”
As his ambition for the project increased, his musicianship likewise outgrew the original name. He has now discarded Yesterdays New Quintet in favour ofthe myriad fictional groups and genuine collaborations collected on Yesterdays Universe (2007), but he still directs us to “Prepare For A New Yesterday” (Yesterdays Universe’s subtitle, and perhaps the most succinct strapline for the entire YNQ enterprise). With so many invented personalities peopling his projects, Madlib doesn’t just record musical history, he rewrites it; and Stones Throw art director Jeff Jank’s accompanying artwork pastiches naggingly familiar jazz LP sleeves, including one in vintage Blue Note style, for some of Yesterdays Universe’s imaginary groups. These albums didn’t come out in our universe, but in Madlib’s parallel one, and here’s the sleeve that proves it – complete with used price sticker and wear-and-tear marks where the vinyl pressed too long against the cardboard in some forgotten dusty crate.
All this hip-hop ingenuity and jazz worship did not go unnoticed. Eventually, Madlib was allowed access to original multitrack recordings from the vaults of jazz label Blue Note, who released the results as 2003′s Shades Of Blue (the first album, in fact, produced under the name Madlib). Shades Of Blue featured remixes and YNQ reinterpretations of a specific post- bop era of the Blue Note catalogue, roughly between 1965-75. The label’s patronage probably didn’t affect the outcome too much: the laid back suppleness of the Madlib touch is familiar. But the absolute reverence with which he treats the source material is even more affecting than usual. The loving renderings pay homage to the musicians he has been attentively listening to for his whole life – Horace Silver, Wayne Shorter, Andrew Hill, et al. While some may have been hoping for Quasimoto-style radicalism, Madlib’s record-coveting, music-nerd deference brings out the preservationist in him and solidifies his position as guardian of yesterday for the music lovers of tomorrow.