I needed a new project, so I’m starting this series, which I’ve chosen to call “The Big 30”. For each of the thirty days of April, I’ll write a short piece about each of my thirty favorite albums.
Madvillainy — Madvillain (MF DOOM and Madlib)
The first time I listened to “Madvillainy,” it kind of pissed me off. I was well aware of its rep as a canonical classic of alterna-rap, and so expectations were high, as was I. When I first looked at the tracklist, confusion immediately struck me. Why the fuck were all these songs so short? Only a handful of tracks out of the album’s 21 broke the two-minute mark. This is a hip-hop album, so where would they put the rapping? When I completed the first run, I was angry. This was so great, a great album for sure, but it was so fucking thin! Aside from “America’s Most Blunted” and “Rhinestone Cowboy,” rhymespitting deity MF DOOM doesn’t even stick around for a second verse. This was fantastic stuff but I was furious because I felt like I deserved more.
Over time, my allegiances shifted. I realized that Madlib isn’t just here to hold down the fort while Lord Quad drops mind-boggling rhymes (though he often does, and with great relish), but that these are two equal components of an essential whole. “Madvillainy” is a marvel of production, a loosely-bound packet of esoteric curios that’d make the ghost of J Dilla crack a little smile. Shorter tracks aren’t just tossed-off outtakes or filler used to pad the album’s already-slim running time. Tracks like “Bistro” and “Hardcore Hustle” show up, make a wonderful impression, and then duck out before they overstay their welcome. The album casts Madlib as a fountain positively overflowing with creativity, the vinyl just trying to capture as much of his genius as possible without letting it slip away.
Not to diminish Doom’s talent — we get some of his best work on this album. “America’s Most Blunted” is the smartest, most dextrous track about the joys of getting stoned I’ve ever heard and “Rhinestone Cowboy” (I wonder if you can tell which tracks are my favorite yet) reminds the listener that the English language can just be a fun fucking toy to play around with (“I’m known as the grimy limey slimy / try me / blimey”).
Much like its closest disciple “Duality,” the pleasures of “Madvillainy” are simple. Smart ‘n’ easy rhymes, beats you want to wear like an old hoodie, and a tightly rolled j. That’s awful close to heaven.