Talib Kweli Discusses The Genius Of Madvillainy & Its Impact On Hip-Hop (Audio)

Last month, Madvillain’s album celebrated its 14th birthday. In the early 2000s, MF DOOM and Madlib formed the group and recorded Madvillainy in the latter’s bomb shelter studio in Glendale, California. The resulting Stones Throw Records album was a game-changer in the careers of two elusive, decorated veterans, both creatively and commercially. That release lives in mythology, with only remixes and short-lived loosies that followed from the union.

On Saturday (April 21), Talib Kweli celebrated Record Store Day at SoHo’s Sonos Store on a panel with DJ Natasha Diggs. In a partnership with online record collecting community Dust and Grooves, Kweli spoke to moderator Elion Paz about his affinity for Madvillainy. Ambrosia For Heads was in attendance to hear Talib’s detailed explanation as to why the LP is just so great.

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In 2004, Kweli had shared the mic with Madlib on the J Dilla-produced “Raw Sh*t” from JayLib’s Champion Sound. Three years later, they would collaborate on an entire project. In early 2004, the Black Star and Reflection Eternal co-founder was fast at work on his sophomore solo LP, The Beautiful Struggle.

“I wanted to do records with Faith Evans, and The Neptunes, and Mary J. Blige, and Anthony Hamilton and stuff like that; I’d put them on Beautiful Struggle. I grew up listening to ’70s Funk/Soul just like y’all [probably did]. I was born in 1975 so I was born into it. I desire lush arrangements and sounds and layers and things sounding analog and great voices. So my Hip-Hop is informed from that. I came out of Rawkus [Records], and there was a whole sub-genre that developed under the Hip-Hop that came out where it was more about this cold, static-y, underground feeling where it wasn’t about anything warm, from what I can tell. It was more about beats and rhymes and stuff like that. So I was getting older and I wasn’t as cutting edge on the underground Hip-Hop scene as I was [previously]. So I tapped into what Madlib was doing. There was a way to connect to that. Because to me, he was still super, super underground [when] the underground crowd was lookin’ at me as a little bit more commercial, ’cause I just gave them what people considered ‘this commercial album,’ which is not what I considered it, but that was the feedback.”

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Moving specifically to Madvillain, Talib continues, “[Madvillainy] is two of my favorites coming together, but it breaks the rules in a lot of different ways. Like, the first thing that I noticed is that there’s instrumentals, and Madlib says they’re instrumentals to let you know [that they are included]. They’re sort of in two different spaces. MF DOOM is like a non-sequitur rapper. He’s not really sticking to a subject, it’s just about rhyme schemes and rhyme patterns. He makes you wish you rhymed ‘terrycloth Kangols‘ with ‘very soft mangoes.’ I talk a lot about DOOM as an MC, but Madlib is no slouch either. Madlib is not known to get deep like that, when he raps—and he doesn’t rap that often—he raps about weed and making Rap songs. That’s what the subject matter is.” However, Madlib changed it up on this album. “Spiritually, Madlib is connected with certain Jazz artists; he has a Jazz band, Yesterday’s New Quintet. He’s very connected with Sun Ra, spiritually, as an artist. The way that Sun Ra saw music, I feel like Madlib has always been trying to attain that. There’s a song on here called ‘Shadows Of Tomorrow,’ which I believe is a sample of a Sun Ra song. Certainly, the lyrics are Madlib and [his alter ego] Quasimoto breaking down a Sun Ra-ish philosophy of life. And it’s do deep. Just like DOOM made me jealous with the ‘very soft mangoes,’ [Madlib’s lyrics on this song amaze me]. This record is definitely something that I wish I wrote. I’ma keep it real with you: It’s so good that I was like, ‘He must’ve read this in a book. He didn’t write this.’ One day, I spent an hour on the Internet looking for the origins of these lyrics—no disrespect to Madlib. Like I said, I’m a fan of Madlib from Lootpack days.” Kweli notes that Madlib’s Lootpack band-mates DJ Romes and Wildchild (who raps on ‘Hardcore Hustle’) feel omnipresent on the LP. “It really feels like MF DOOM featuring Lootpack, or Lootpack featuring MF DOOM.”

Kweli uses another song to illustrate what makes Madvillainy so great. “There’s a record on here with MED, ‘Raid,’ [inspired by] The Boondocks. There’s a scene in The Boondocks when Sam Jackson and Charlie Murphy played the white boys [who] think that Oprah is coming to the Barnes & Nobles [store], but she’s at the Borders instead, and they want to kidnap Oprah but they end up kidnapping Maya Angelou instead. That scene is very action-packed. During that scene, they’re playing this record, ‘Raid.’ Hearing that record in The Boondocks gave me a huge appreciation for that particular song. There’s things that DOOM is doing, things that Madlib is doing…this is them at the top of their game.” He adds, “There’s a song, ‘Bistro,’ where DOOM is just acting like he’s the host of some lounge. He’s not even rapping on it. I enjoy the freedom of [this album]. It’s interesting that they sort of had to isolate themselves from everything that was going on in the music business to put out a record that’s so free, like this.”

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Talib Kweli believes Madlib and DOOM achieved their vision with Madvillainy. “I think what I really like about that record is that they were trying to use technology to achieve a lo-fi sound [similar] to the sound they grew up on. That record is one of the deeper, darker, more serious cuts on the album. But I feel like Madlib was watching a lot of Scooby Doo, or like watching a lot of ’70s drama with car chases, and a lot of Blaxploitation flicks…There’s a lot of the music and the sounds, there was a lot of instrumentation and arrangement going on in TV shows in the ’70s, game shows, commercials, ’cause they weren’t making that background music with computers. They had to bring bands in to make all that stuff. A lot of that stuff is ingrained in us, it’s in our DNA. I think from watching kung-fu flicks on Saturdays to reading comics to Hanna Barbera cartoons and stuff, that’s what those sounds remind me of—the Madlib sound.” The Brooklyn, New Yorker says that at a time after Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def) has stated that Madlib is working with Black Star on music (a point that Talib has clarified). “It’s interesting: there’s children in that era who are now trying to get back to that.”

A year and a half after Madvillainy was released, Kweli rapped beside DOOM on Danger DOOM’s “Old School.” Although produced by Danger Mouse, the track samples Keith Mansfield’s “Funky Fanfare,” used in previews during the 1960s and 1970s. Lyrically, that song called back to memories of growing up from the KMD alum and Reflection Eternal spitter.