Madlib the Beat Konducta
Vol. 3: Live in India LP
adlib sounds better when you’re stoned. This is a pretty widely known fact, one that I have personally verified over several years of dedicated empiricism. Sure, there have been detours over the course of his eight years of rapping/producing/DJing. In particular, the Shades of Blue jazz record only sounded better if you were high and above the age of 72. But, for the most part, the Oxnard-raised man born Otis Jackson Jr. has built his rep on the symbiotic relationship between potheads and music that, to quote Jon Stewart in Half Baked, sounds better when you’re “on weed.”
Pot heads are a loyal bunch, united in a loose confederacy based on a mutual admiration of Slurpees and Sour Diesel. Perhaps the only other thing they can agree on is that they typically like songs that sound better when you’re high or songs about how good it is to be high. Preferably both. This is why Cypress Hill boasted a sterling 92 percent approval rating from high school-aged stoners from 1992 to 1998. Indeed, Hill scored points by benefiting from both the irresistible combination of B-Real’s lyrics about taking hits from the bong and the ingenious way in which Mugs flipped a Dusty Springfield sample into a stoner anthem that will last until the last bong melts from global warming-related heat sometime in the year 2254.
Madlib is the heir to the throne that Cypress vacated sometime around “Rap Superstar.” He’s the new master of dropping laid-back beats that strut with a hypnotic, head-nodding ease—beats that sound better and were presumably composed under the salubrious effects of strong California chronic. And if by some odd chance that Madlib isn’t higher than whoever conceived the idea for “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader,” he’s certainly gone out of his way to convince people otherwise, titling songs “Weeded It” and “America’s Most Blunted.” Not to mention naming an entire album Blunted in the Bomb Shelter.
Of course, making great music for stoners is never the best way to get critical respect. This is probably why Madlib’s name is rarely mentioned outside of cipher circles as one of the five best producers in hip-hop. And whenever he is mentioned, it’s always in the token underground slot, and always behind the likes of guys like Just Blaze and 9th Wonder, or newbies like Polow Da Don and DJ Toomp. Whoever they are.
But in just eight short years, Madlib has assembled one of the strongest discographies of any rapper/producer ever. From his debut under the Lootpack moniker (Soundpieces: Da Antidote) to the experimental funk/jazz/hip-hop of Yesterday’s New Quintet, to Champion Sound and Madvillain, to jazz and reggae records, Madlib is perhaps the most prolific pothead in the history of potdom, standing as living and breathing proof that Nancy Reagan was completely full of shit.
In that vein, Vol. 3 in the Beat Konducta series is another banger for the blunted set, one that will fly largely under the radar, ignored in the frenzy to lavish praise or heap derision upon another much more famous rapper/producer’s album that drops next week. Like its predecessor, last year’s similarly strong Beat Konducta Vol. 1-2: Movie Scenes, Vol. 3 scores an imaginary film. Unlike the previous collection that focused on stitching together a bunch of ridiculously listenable funk and soul samples, however, this time Madlib draws his inspiration from India, crafting a seamless 29 minute mix of looped sitars and gritty dusty drums, patches of Bollywood dialogue, and Redman vocal samples. Oriental flutes and vinyl crackle. Think of it as the hip-hop version of the sub-continental soundtrack that Thora Birch gets down to in the first scene of Ghost World.
At this point in his career, Madlib has gotten it down to a science. It’s not a complicated record. It’s not trying to be anything more than an ideal soundtrack for a night when you’ve ordered Indian takeout and want to chill out and let your mind breathe while devouring a delicious plate of Lamb Curry and Cheese Naan. I’m sure people will enjoy it sober just fine. And if you don’t, perhaps you might want to follow the prescription of Madlib’s illustrious predecessors: roll it up, light it up, smoke it up, inhale, exhale.