How About Some Weird & Powerful History Around Madvillain 10 Years Later?
By 1999, MF DOOM began a comeback of superhero proportions. Once a major label artist, ZevLoveX of KMD had a core fanbase, but was (rather ironically), not a highly recognizable figure of Hip-Hop in face or name. After the tragic death of his twin brother Subroc, DOOM was born. Inspired by Ironman, the masked villain reportedly covered his identity to veil the pain from losing his identical twin. With a trademark prop, DOOM’s rhymes took a drunken turn, veering into a mythical street figure with incredible wit, wordplay, and a nonchalant approach to music-making.
1999’s Operation Doomsday was chased by nondescript projects under monikers like King Geedorah, Viktor Vaughn, and crew LP, Monsta Island Czars. Not to be seen without the mask, DOOM’s career operated in the underground, as the onetime disciple of Bobbito’s Fondle ‘Em Records ascended as a figure that stomped the stagnation in the mainstream Hip-Hop monopoly.
In 2004, DOOM released two of his highest profile releases since KMD/Elektra. While the Rhymesayers Entertainment release, Mm…Food was still over three months away, Stones Throw Records released Madvillainy in March of ’04. A joint effort between Madlib and MF DOOM, these cross-coastal figures had some strong overlapping sensibilities. Two reclusive personalities, both stemmed from groups (Lootpack and KMD, respectively), both loved producing peers (J Dilla and MF Grimm, respectively), and each loved character-driven, mysterious side-projects (Yesterday’s New Quintet/Quasimoto and King Geedorah, respectively). The fit seemed perfect… but as a new feature at Pitchfork reveals, not quite at the onslaught…
Jeff Weiss’ stellar feature on the making of Madvillainy recalls a very different Stones Throw from today, with limited resources. The label’s headquarters were founder Peanut Butter Wolf’s Los Angeles home. Neighboring the house was a 1950s bomb-shelter with 18″ concrete walls, which became Madlib’s studio (see his later Dancehall/Reggae mix, Blunted In The Bombshelter).
In the early 2000s (well before the ultimate 2004 release date), recording makeshift albums for various labels, doing limited guest-work, and traveling between Long Island and a small Georgia town, DOOM was off the grid. It just so happens that Stones Throw’s GM, Egon had a friend who lived in the same rural town as Metal Face, and they crossed paths. Although Stones Throw had worked with DOOM’s contemporaries, Lord Finesse, Rob Swift and 45 King, the English-born MC/producer had never heard of the imprint. “I told my friend that Madlib’s been making beats and I needed to get them to DOOM to get Madlib back into rap again,” Egon told Pitchfork. Jeff Weiss reports that a care package of Madlib’s releases was shipped to DOOM. “Three weeks later, the friend called back: DOOM loved it and wanted to work,” he writes. “Phone calls and tapes were exchanged. An offer was made. One of several quasi-managers then orbiting the DOOM solar system demanded plane tickets to L.A. and $1,500 for three songs over Madlib beats. Stones Throw immediately agreed.”
The story gets more interesting. Upon DOOM’s arrival, the MC strapped on his mask to hit the bomb-shelter with Madlib, while still in the car. The label was broke at the time, and DOOM’s fee was not possible to be compensated—something his manager demanded upon arrival.
The article chronicles the finagling that Wolf and Egon needed to do to keep DOOM in L.A., and Madlib churning out the reported 100 beats made for Madvillainy sessions. Madlib went to Brazil (joined by Jurassic 5’s Cut Chemist) to pursue the music further.
However, in this time… Stones Throw released several commercial “flops” (as Weiss deems them), including JayLib, Madlib & J Dilla’s collaborative LP that is today, considered a catalog jewel. Meanwhile, DOOM challenged his own brand with the aforementioned side releases. Worse, Madvillainy leaked.
The feature proceeds to tell the story—with some seemingly supernatural forces—how the album regained life from two reclusive artists. Completely re-recorded, with a memorable cover that added to its mystique, the release would go on to become the label’s best-seller, selling 100 copies for every dollar DOOM demanded at the infancy.
However, the feature also tackles the new mystery—surrounding a long-promised follow-up, and the intersections since. Weiss writes:
“When Kanye West sought Madlib beats for what eventually became My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, DOOM brokered the meeting, hoping for a cut of the potential windfall. For hours, the three of them sat in that Masonic Lodge, shrouded in smoke, piles of records, and the smell of pan dulce from the Mexican bakery downstairs. At some point, Kanye fell out of a rickety half-broken chair lying around the studio. Madlib and DOOM laughed, as villains do.”
Worth every bit of your time, check: Searching for Tomorrow: The Story of Madlib and DOOM’s Madvillainy by Jeff Weiss, published by Pitchfork.