The Mystery of Madlib Revealed In His Most In-Depth Video Interview

Certain Hip-Hop artists go to an extreme to avoid the media. Dr. Dre and Eminem are two of the more selective artists, who often shun easily-available press, even during album cycles. Kanye West, Drake, and even DOOM will do interviews more regularly, albeit when convenient for themselves. One artist, who for more than 15 years has all but run from any spotlight is Madlib. “I don’t talk in front of people. I don’t talk in front of my friends,” says the veteran, bluntly.

Even when the Oxnard, California MC/DJ/producer was an early member of the Lootpack and Likwit Cru, he seemingly dodged the mic and the camera lens as much as possible. Fast forward almost 20 years, and the artist born Otis Jackson, Jr. appeared briefly in Stones Throw Records documentary Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton, he once did a 2009 cover profile with Wire magazine, but admits he’s not really interested in media-promoting the litany of albums he releases each year. In a 2016 that’s witnessed Madlib secure a placement on his first #1 charting LP (Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo) as well as release his first track with Nas on it (care of J Dilla’s The Diary), the creator of Quasimoto, Yesterday’s New Quintet, Beat Konducta, and a host of side projects has remained in the cut. In April, the Red Bull Music Academy gathered Madlib for a small audience—the second time they’ve done so since 2002. Moderator Jefferson “Chairman” Mao asks all the right questions, and Madlib opens up—in a way that makes sense for him.

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At times, the one-hour interview is a bit uncomfortable. When Madlib says of his old label “Man, fuck Wolf,” (12:00) referring to Stones Throw Records’ Peanut Butter Wolf, the host and audience appear shocked—before the deep-voiced Hip-Hop and Jazz veteran reveals he’s only joking. Elsewhere in the interview, Madlib struggles to explain the methodology to his productions—which have attracted Erykah Badu, Yasiin Bey, De La Soul, and the latest, Anderson .Paak (15:00). A man of proud simplicity, Madlib fights against vast revisions and over-production. The artist who once made Madvillainy in a former Cold War-era bomb shelter studio says he now records in a Free Mason castle. Pressed as to why, “cheap rent” is all the Beat Konducta really will volunteer.

Underneath these answers are a lot of information though. Unlike past interviews, Heads can really watch Madlib’s earnest way of looking at the world. He admits that he’s been sampling since junior high school. He casually reveals that he handed Kanye West and company six beat CDs. The one featuring what would be the main basis to “No More Parties In L.A.” was in fact an entire digital reel of Madlib specifically sampling Walter “Junie” Morrison’s 1976 Suzie Supergroupie album. The track “Suzie Thundertussy” is the basis for what West and company would choose for their 2016 LP. To make things even more interesting, Madlib reveals he made that particular creation on an iPad (22:00). Notably, Madlib regularly reconstructs entire albums on whims. “Da Loop Digga” as he’s often called himself made a whole beat CD of pre-1989 Prince samples in the days between his April 21 death and the interview. Aside from Madlib’s inner-circle, no one will ever hear it. Elsewhere in the interview, Madlib casually mentions that in addition to he and Freddie Gibbs’ sophomore album Bandana, his Madlib Invazion imprint will be launching a producer series that will include releases by Pete Rock, Slum Village’s Young RJ, and others (29:30). For those hoping for it, in the same interview, Madlib says he has 20 DOOM/Madvillainy tracks. Asked about the new cats Madlib is mentoring, the O-X veteran opts not to give names. Just as E-Swift would force Madlib to eventually broke out on his own after works on the first three Alkaholiks albums, the pupil is now in the mentor’s chair.

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Perhaps above any revealing answers, or the way Madlib confirms the disappearance of Quasimoto (“I don’t even fuck with Quas’ no more; fuck that nigga”) chides the creator, and his own Showbiz-like retirement from rapping, is just a man who is utterly obsessed with music, and creating it exclusively on his terms (46:20). Madlib admits he makes music for himself and a close circle around him. He jokes that if paid, he’ll add seven more “record rooms” to his house. However, he stresses that even with G.O.O.D. Music, Universal Motown, and Sire/Warner Bros. Records showing up in his mailbox, it’s never about money.

In any era when producers are trying to be brands just as big as the vocalists, Madlib has done so for years, simply by being himself.