Thanks to @stkizzle and his accidentally bequeathed music collection, I’m slowly finding my way round alternative hip-hop, and not a minute too soon. With Kanye West’s stock at an all-time high—tell me, honestly, who thought he’d bounce back after Taylor Swift-gate?—now seems like a good moment to deflate his ego a little, with the suggestion that his couture rapping isn’t as hyperliterate as he thinks.
The first albums to whose charms I have succumbed is Madvillain‘s Madvillainy; it is as far away as you can get from the traditional gangland.
Madvillainy is all about the many masks and guises of MF DOOM; fittingly, the album evokes comparisons with the dark underbelly of Alan Moore‘s Watchmen. There are snitches of film dialogue from a bygone era; everyone’s either sitting on park benches peering out from behind newspapers, or committing dastardly deeds while dressed up as supervillains. It’s comic, but it’s not comic. DOOM’s rapping style is distinctive and punchy; it modulates between a sandpapered rasp and a treacle-sticky flow of inventive rhymes and disparate references. Behind him, Madlib‘s beats are Dilla-smooth, and interspersed with snippets of jazz standards that crackle off the vinyl (and are cryptically attributed to Yesterday’s New Quintet—a purely fictitious device). There’s a thick fug of weed-smoke hanging over the record, from which creep occasional pulses of bass.
“Pan it, can’t understand it, ban it;
The underhanded ranted, planned it and left him stranded;
The best, any who profess will be remanded.”
On “Money Folder” (above), over a tricksy breakbeat and a synthesised approximation of a double-bass, the pair treat us to every trick in their book. A brief snatch of repurposed narration, then we’re launched into the main attraction, with DOOM relentlessly spitting rhyme, and Madlib finding time to fit in a conspicuous jazz breakdown. Disembodied piano chords rise to the top of the mix, painfully slowly, practically inviting the fade-out which eventually follows, leading into a lengthier, chopped-and-screwed passage of narration, pieced together from different films and, who knows, different eras. It’s a mesmerising composition; a shadowy world reminiscent of the one dreamt up on DJ Shadow’s seminal Endtroducing…; and a showcase for one of the most exciting rappers of all time.