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The Lobby | MADVILLAIN - MADVILLAINY (2004)



Following DOOM’s ventures in the Special Herbs series and Vaudeville Villain, MF DOOM and Madlib would team up in 2002. In 2004, they released Madvillainy (2004, Stones Throw). In this album shows DOOM’s voice maturing, growing deeper and more experienced than his previous vocal outing as a singular artist in Operation: Doomsday, as well as Madlib continuing to hone his production and beatmaking craft to a nearly unrecognizable point since his first studio appearance as a producer with the Alkaholiks in 1995.


Joined by other aliases of the same two artists, this album portrays a playfully diabolical suite within the realms of hip-hop’s abstract. The utmost diabolical trait of this album is the conceptual tease-and-toss conveyed through the album’s runtime. Songs occasionally blip in and out of existence, a thousand grand exits that leave behind nothing but room. Whereas many all-time works within the compositional style of short sucker punches of songs flourish in wriggling bloom, the one thing they all lack is shallowness in their ephemerality. In Madvillainy, this becomes not a properly utilized device towards the psychology of the listener, but a legitimate concern within the bounds of cohesion and the entire listening experience of the album to the point where an artistic compromise can be debated.


The Illest Villains introduces the experience to the listener with a whirling and tossing Sun Ra sample. Immediately, jazz-rap debuts as a primary component of the album’s sound. It continues whirling in its own sonic dust devil, then is brought freedom via both intoxicated percussion, and a faceless and nameless monologue on top that introduces the two characters in which DOOM and Madlib portray. It sets the scene of the characteristics of these two, as masterminds supplying nothing but the utmost heinous and chaotic. Villainous, if one dares say so.


“As luck would have it, one of America’s two most powerful villains of the next decade is turned loose to strike terror into the hearts of men. (...) The villains themselves were ultimately responsible for much of the popularity / audiences loved to hate. The importance of the villain was not overlooked. Of course, one of the worst of all was Madvillain. They had no code of ethics.”


Singular and plural inconsistencies as well as the name drop confirms the splicing and placing together of these vocal samples into a monologue tailored only for this album. Television program samples of ever so rotating chaoses continue piling onto the track as if they were stacks of evidence. These first two minutes set the scene for the rest of the record, as well as for the pivotal artistic duo.


A simple, perhaps dissonant accordion sample opens up Accordion, a song titled just as simply. As it bounces and twitches along the right channel, DOOM pops into existence whilst smoothly allocating along the audio channels. His style is immediately set: abstract, wordy, playful and unpredictable, complemented with a voice like freshly baked bread. He waxes such eclectic mannerisms for the rest of the song, but the short length of the song makes the departure more unfortunate than anything. The song teases with a new sample, this time of Sleeping in a Jar from the Mothers of Invention, before being silenced to make way for the new song, quick and abrupt as duct tape over the mouth.


Meat Grinder is a much better piece. The sample plays out before fading to make way for a more laid back instrumental, fused with pleasantly varied percussion and fed suspension via DOOM’s concentrated breath. He cruises in with a more effective abstract art conveyed using his irregular and immediately recognizable voice and delivery. The flow improves significantly, and a short, much more effective tease occurs with a slide guitar seasoning the gaps in the track from time to time. This singular piece, although similar in length, feels much more complete than the two that came before it. The lyric work spilled onto the song is its own bag of surprises. In a much more justified execution, the song cuts off just as the listener prepares to hear DOOM continue.


A borderline skit occurs with Bistro. A vocal sample brought a heartbeat with television static bounces around the channels in a way in which the leaps border on irritation, as if wanting to distract you with conversation whilst DOOM lets the audience get comfortable. The staff and music backings for said bistro are brought from the alter egos of Madlib and DOOM, with names such as King Geedorah and Quasimoto appearing and vanishing before the listener can register their syllables. One ought to question the purpose of this song’s existence, other than being a simple skit that the two artists formulated in their heads. A much more lax soul sample improves the atmosphere of the skit, although compromised by a peculiarly placed telephone ring. A supposed performance is cut off to make way for Raid.


And an energetic and snappy backing accompanies DOOM’s most energetic performance in the album yet, the production allowing a newfound catchiness to occur. The delivery exacts a new milestone in quality, but is distracted by the generally mediocre delivery of MED’s guest verse. His delivery devolves too much into the snappiness, almost focusing on making the verse another simple variable of percussion instead of a verse that can travel along each instrument smoothly as if they were wheels. Once again, it feels as if such an instrumental borders on being wasted given how short the song is. It’ll not take long to realize that a lot of songs on this album are undercooked.


This song-skit brainchild known as America’s Most Blunted exacts a much more complete concept than Bistro accomplished, and one of the best beats on the album. DOOM’s verse continues to be optimized upon the already dazzling performance in the previous song. He’s beginning to get comfortable. The whole verse does its job nigh-flawlessly. The samples themselves don’t cause any disruption and instead only build and build upon the already strong scaffolding of the song.


At the 2:20 mark, a new voice enters the song as DOOM’s verse wraps up. The sheer irritation of the voice as well as its subpar delivery and even worse structuring leaves a bitter taste on the song, before and after its existence. It sucks dick like it was wanting to acquire the marijuana the song is about. Quasimoto’s verse overall is a sham, as if it took the song, the perfectly cooked top sirloin cut that it is, and boiled it in urine just because it thought the sirloin wasn’t salty enough.


The song ends with an entertaining spoken word, structured like an educational program for children. Yet Quasimoto’s vocal contribution sticks out like a tumor on a thumb, making you realize that Madlib does a much better job in the producer’s booth.


Sickfit feels as if it did not want to be compromised by any poorly delivered vocals, so rather consciously kept itself as an instrumental beat. This may as well serve as an intermission to the rollercoaster of quality served from the previous song. The more you submerge into the beat, the shorter it feels. It doesn’t take up much time at all nor that much patience, and before you know it, Rainbows crashes through the roof.


This song shows, like That’s That and One Beer (songs that would appear later into DOOM’s career), that DOOM isn’t a very good singer. As if the symptoms Sickfit would likely suffer from vocals were instead coughed onto this piece instead. It begins to feel quite lazy around the second iteration. Rainbows proves itself as one of the most undercooked songs in the whole album. The 3 minutes of music it provides make for semi-fascinating deadweight.


Curls immediately pops up as much more entertaining from the first loop. Although DOOM is comfortably in his own stylistic lane in this song, it’s about as effective as you’d expect any verse in this album to be when coming from the twists of his many tongues. Likely the most entertaining aspect of this song is DOOM acquiring a consciousness of the listener’s intelligence, and allowing them to finish a rhyme whilst DOOM remains silent.


Another instrumental beat appears in Don’t Fire!, a more hectic and marvellous outing than Sickfit. Infinitely more eclectic and profound, it provides much more to chew on in less than 55 seconds. It switches from one plateau to another not as if in the style of a hiker, but rather in a leaper between time and space itself. Money Folder feels like the most natural development from the instrumental preceding it. The delivery isn’t particularly up to par, but the excellently arranged beat (especially the drumbeat and the sheer bullshit that it lacks) generally makes up for it. With an improved delivery and the instrumental keeping its steam through the second half, the song would feel much more complete. An expository monologue ends the song.


Shadows of Tomorrow provides another one of the album’s greatest instrumentals, once again brought into jeopardy by a questionable vocal performance, this time visible from the start. One of the most philosophical cuts on the album, the vocals thankfully seem to improve as the song continues. The food for thought tends to experience its own injustice as a result of how little development is brought to it. This song is generally undercooked not in the sense of length, but rather in terms of the concept.


Within this point of the review, the structuring is obvious. Each song is to be looked at one at a time, with little interest into how they mesh together. This is a result of just how much fatigue the album can induce when this much is being thrown into the ears with so little resolution. The lack of proper nurturing and development given to quite a bit of these songs allow such flaws to mesh together just as easily as the songs do, and as a result, create a stealthy drag that would make George Santos jealous. What kind of holistic experience best keeps the energy of the listener when the listener is stopping here and there and writing down, instead of letting the album go uninterrupted?


From hereon, the main lapses of Madvillainy grow increasingly frustrating.


The fatigue begins to noticeably take effect once Operation Lifesaver is playing, where a great beat, great prompt, and great vocal delivery is compromised by just how little song there is. This is a song that deserves more, and needs more. So do a lot of other songs on this album. But it simply isn’t given enough time. Although many samples season the end of the song, whether televised or ever more celestial, it simply doesn’t make up for the underdevelopment.


But there’s a messiah, a holy power ready to come into play that knocks the rest of the album out of the park. Complete and matured into the best monolith of abstract hip-hop it could possibly be, Figaro enters the pandemonium. This song is amusingly guised as simple. The lyrics find themselves lost in their own verbal suite, whilst the beat supplies the foundation, furnishing, and housekeeping to keep that suite in check. Properly complex. DOOM’s vocal performance here is better than ever. His voice is ever so smooth and riding the beat with the most precise yet jittery paintbrush known as his tongue.


Such wholehearted, heavy and hardy hubbub is then thrown off by Hardcore Hustle. The beat is as comfortable as somebody placing ball gags over the headlights of your car, it’s just as underbaked. Wildchild’s feature here sounds like he didn’t listen to the beat beforehand, and is riding off of the empty air and silence that likely went through his head upon rapping. The delivery is less than impressive. Is this what happens when Vordul Mega wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, wears all of his clothes inside out, and uses a hair comb as his toothbrush?


But somehow, he isn’t the most unpleasant vocal complement to this song. After a violent escapade lasting a few fleeting seconds, it then resolves in a man moaning in an orgasmic fashion, a heartbeat beneath. It isn't that often where you encounter a song whilst listening to an album where it has one specific moment where you wonder what the hell they were thinking. This happens to be one of those moments.


The song may be insufficiently nurtured, and virtually abused by Wildchild’s vocal performance, but there can’t be any way they were high enough to approve of ending a song with such moans. It simply doesn’t line up with the rest of the song, rarely with the rest of the album, and let alone the few seconds that came before it. The ending is indecent, not in the way that the Velvet Underground’s Sister Ray is indecent. Unlike that song, this proves to be indecent and without purpose. It has no purpose.


Strange Ways comes as a saviour to such conceptual incompetence, once more a lax and permanently smooth interplay between a good DOOM verse and a good Madlib instrumental, apparating as if to sonically complement a damn good heist sequence. To further add to that, a vocal sample appears once more, to provide a much more understandable contrast. It smoothly transitions into Fancy Clown. Here, we see Viktor Vaughn, another one of DOOM’s personas, make an appearance. The premise is simple but potently delivered, reminiscent of the quality of Vaudeville Villain.


The sample’s lyrics also help the concept, adding infinitely more flavour to the song. The quality of this song in general, its whole melodramatic malaise and its reek of revenge, helps paint another issue in this album: inconsistency.


This album is capable of bouncing from great and effective cuts where nearly everything seems to be going right, to the utmost mediocrity helping tarnish what is otherwise a piece with potential for so much more. When combined with the flaws in developing each song and helping them mature, Madvillainy begins to feel like scraps of what it could be.


The way this is further reinforced is with the next song. Eye opens up with an awkward vocal feature from Stacy Epps, the production choices not helping her much either. One contribution to the general ambience of the song seems to peak a bit too much, to the point even a blind man could see through the song. Once more, we find a song also underdeveloped, this time with issues narrowing down to even the production.


But what could this be? Supervillain Theme, another beacon in terms of instrumentals, just as good as Sickfit or Don’t Fire! and this time even more of a light in the increasingly cloudy forecast of the album. It’s properly gritty in its tone, a wondrously calm menace creeping its way into the listener, its own grimy and repulsive earworm that is utterly irresistible; and then that earworm is stomped into nothing from the boots of the next song, one that shatters all of the clouds and propels the album back into full force.


The indisputably seminal All Caps may as well have one of the greatest beats ever imagined, and absolutely one of the greatest ever recorded. It bounces with the smoothness of infinity, shining like a clean sheen of gold-plated painting frames that help encapsulate the masterful artistry it vows to contain. Sampled from one of the opening themes of Ironside, the beat is incomprehensibly effective.


When one hears that beat, they hear DOOM. They hear the kind of music DOOM has asserted himself as a legend in. They hear the most primary etiquette when referring to him. Everything down to the descending piano line works in favour of the song, and in favour of the entire album. DOOM’s flow is at his best, and he delivers one of his best verses ever. Better yet, both verses are capable of fighting for such a title.


This song is the album’s superlative moment, the gold standard. Fully matured, cooked perfectly, nurtured properly, everything sounding just right, the delivery on point, the beat being cruised along flawlessly. It’s the Ecstasy of Gold of hip-hop. No innumerably syllabic word salads can properly state the quality of such a song like All Caps. Few hip-hop songs throughout the genre’s history can go toe to toe with it, and even fewer can encapsulate the mystique and persona of its artist as perfectly. The song can be argued as flawless.


Great Day once again shows an attempt at DOOM singing at the start. As usual, it backfires like he was intentionally pointing the gun at himself. He gets back into a more effective position as he cruises over a beat as brilliant as the album could possibly blossom, with a performance and verse that continues to reinforce the standard the album should be held to. Although not as impressive as All Caps, this song stands on its own excellently in spite of how subpar his singing at the start is.


For the final song, they thankfully do not drop the ball at all. Rhinestone Cowboy has a beat just as beautiful as the two beats before it, wailing along within its own zone and not holding back a single inch, yet impossibly matching that passion with the zen state in which DOOM ruminates. The longest song on the album, it’s fortunately one of the best.


The sampled crowd loop helps season the beat and DOOM’s performance within a particularly special method, including exaggerating the humour occasionally hidden within such verses. DOOM couldn’t be more naturally in his bag within these last three songs. The album ends with a proper sense of finality, a monologue similar to the one that sets the scene for this very record. This time, neatly tying a bow to the entire work. The worst thing about it, however, is that the boxing of the gift is of poor material and fraught with moth holes.


Madvillainy starts off good, begins trailing like a slurring drunk throughout, and then ends in boundlessly brilliant fashion. Recency bias is capable of bending an entire consensus, which allows reflection of just how deeply flawed a lot of the album is to become ever more difficult. The leaps and dives in quality are utterly frustrating, it could make you pull all the hair out of a yeti. Outside of the last three songs, the inconsistencies, production lapses, quantity of underdeveloped concepts and songs, and occasionally subpar vocals seem to go by ignored by the masses.


When the real moments of genius came into play, it’s too often they became fleeting. Instead of being properly investigated, they found themselves neglected under a causeway. And in the instances that didn’t become the case, the glaring amounts of ideas left behind, or the amounts of ideas that lacked in quality or proper meat to chew on, became too monolithic to ignore. The most villainous aspect about this entire album is how it teases the listener with brilliance, only to retract such brilliance before it could bloom. The production wasn’t invulnerable either, especially within the embarrassing Eye.


Even worse is the fatigue caused from having so many twists and turns in quality that take a toll on you so often, in songs as short as the ones present in Madvillainy. Improved sequencing would have given this album a little more gold to it when reflecting upon it as a whole. The entire listening experience of an album becomes utterly tarnished and pelted into inferno when the album is too inconsistent. The complete experience becomes a slog, and the optimal showcase of what the album is capable of is reduced to a playlist of its best moments handpicked by the listener. The album itself as a holistic journey is tossed to the side.


This ranks among the most frustrating experiences of 2000s hip-hop, merely for the amount it teases you with, and the amount it gives you as if throwing a bone. The brilliance is there, the respective capabilities of Madlib and MF DOOM couldn’t be more apparent. But the album needed to be more developed in the conceptual factors, more wary of its performances, more focused on the purpose of each idea and each little sample, whatnot.


Every song helps complement each other, but the issue is that the flaws tend to be so structural that each flaw tends to complement each other as well, helping reinforce the issue. It holds back the album from being utterly profound, and paints a fake gold spray over the work when the real gold was hiding in plain sight. To have Hardcore Hustle and All Caps on the same album, 5 songs apart, is a sign of a preposterous post-production quality assurance. The album is effectively compromised by its own folly, its own deafening hubris, rummaging blind and scrounging for its own potential, the potential to be greater than the sum of its parts. The potential to simply be great.


Score: 6.5/10.

Trajectory of listens past the first: neutral.

Written 1/25/2023, 10:43 AM - 1:07 PM.


- Mario


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