BY EVA LIAO Madlib is a super-mysterious musical magician. He’s involved in a billion different hip-hop projects, and chances are you’ve heard his music. But you wouldn’t know it since he’s so low-key and rarely gives interviews. When speaking to his publicist, she says, “Madlib only does interviews on select months.” Then real nonchalant-like, she’s all, “you’d be lucky to catch him during an ‘on’ month.” It seems it’s all a ploy to keep things simplistic at bay. But the irony is that there’s nothing simplistic about his music. In fact, the story of Madlib is actually a bit complicated and a little hard to follow. So pay close attention.
Southern California Otis Jackson Jr. adopted the name Madlib — an acronym for Mind Altering Demented Lessons in Beats, which works as a basic breakdown of his musical approach. But somewhere along the way, between setting boundaries with the early ’90s group Lootpack and making music for the whiz-kids at Adult Swim, Jackson decided to shroud himself in a cloud of alter-egos and pseudonyms. Some know him as Quasimoto, a bizarre and vulgar version of Madlib with a helium-inflated voice. Others are more familiar with Jaylib, the other half to the Madvillain duo with hip-hop cult-figure MF Doom.
These masked identities both distinguish and flaunt Jackson’s varied musical style and abilities. As a DJ, producer and MC he’s a renaissance man on all fronts. Listen to The Further Adventures of Lord Quas for a sense of the most schizophrenic, avant-garde interpretation of hip-hop to date. But this beat junkie can also pick up most any instrument, from drums to guitar to keys, and use them to reanimate musical genres. In ’03 he dropped the poised Shades of Blue, a ballsy and unabashed attempt to remix an entire album of Blue Note songs. His most recent release, Yesterdays’ Universe, is the product of Madlib’s five-piece band, Yesterdays New Quintet. Only, the ‘band’ consists of Jackson himself posing as five different people, all whom play a mix of hip-hop, jazz and funk with a Sun-Ra kick.
All this being said, it’s a bit mind-boggling to imagine what a Stones Throw label live tour might be like. Appearing at the Starlight Ballroom with the likes of legendary turntableists Peanut Butter Wolf and J.Rocc, one could expect nothing less than sensory overload. But more important, seeing him live may be your only chance to grasp a sense of who this musical genius really is. Unless, of course, you relish in fact that he’s a musical enigma. Which, in the end, is probably just as Madlib would like it.
Mon Dec 3rd – Madlib / Percee P / Peanutbutter Wolf / J Rocc @ The Starlight Ballroom 460 North 9th Street (On 9th Street Between Spring Garden and Callowhill Streets) Philadelphia, PA $15 / All Ages / 21+ To Drink /