Before any review of Madvillainy 2 can commence, the following points must be acknowledged:
1. MF Doom is a tremendous lyricist and MC;
2. Madlib is one of, if not the, best producers alive, and certainly one of the most prolific;
3. Madvillainy is an absolute stone cold classic, one of the best hip-hop albums of the decade, and;
4. As Madvillainy is as much Madlib’s creative property as anyone else’s (Doom probably could care less what’s done with it), he has free rein to treat it how he sees fit.
That being said, it seems almost impossible to feel anything less than disappointed by Madvillainy 2, as the prospect of a second Madvillain album has been as eagerly awaited as any in the past five years. Granted, a lot of the disappointment comes from the disingenuous nature of the project – basically, Madlib took most of Doom’s Madvillainy vocals (and one Dangerdoom vocal, for whatever reason), grafted them to brand new beats, knit them together into the same ghostly samples/quick instrumentals/short songs aesthetic that made the first album so incredible, and released the whole shebang as Madvillainy 2. Instead of a sequel to an album beloved by many and seen as a landmark in the evolution of rap, we get a glorified remix. It’s a little hard not to feel let down.
As said before, this is entirely Madlib’s choice to do such a project, and given Doom’s disappearance from the hip-hop scene and Madlib’s characteristic need to do anything with his spare time, perhaps this could have been expected. All the same, the whole thing just doesn’t feel right; imagine if Francis Ford Coppola had taken outtakes from the first Godfather, edited them together into a brand new narrative, and passed that off as The Godfather, Part II. Would anybody have stood for that? Not only that, but Madlib is essentially fighting the ghost of himself, as the inevitable reaction is to compare this album and its patchwork of beats to the original, which felt organic in a way only the great hip-hop albums do. It’s always hard to chase the ghost of your past, and Madvillainy 2 has the ghost of its predecessor constantly hanging over its head, tantalizingly out of reach.
Of course, this is Madlib we’re talking about; his incredible genius has always been tied with his penchant for putting out anything he can set to plastic or wax. And as a proud owner of his Movie Scenes CD, I can say that it’s always worth giving a Madlib-produced album a listen, because there’s going to be at least a few beats that just knock you on your ass. And Madvillainy 2 is no exception to that rule—aside from the cool little samples that tied the original’s songs together being replaced with lesser samples (what’s up with the second-rate standup routine midway through?), we get plenty of the same genre-hopping greatness that a Madlib-produced album consistently delivers. “Never Go Pop” matches Doom’s “All Caps” vocal with urgent piano and Madlib’s trademark speeded-up R&B vocals, an eerie effect that never fails to lend an off-kilter funhouse feel to the proceedings. “No Brain” stretches out a soul singer’s coo into a weird rhythm track, acting as counterpoint to staccato keyboard and sudden bursts of string-laden soul flourishes. And “Running Around With Another” shoves the vocals for “Fancy Clown” into a ’70s soul loop, all moans and high harmonies and blaring trumpets, like Al Green and his band was hired to produce the song. Not everything works out – “Drainos” feels like Madlib by the numbers, and “Sermon” proves that ’80s synths shouldn’t really be part of Madlib’s palette – but the album, as a whole, delivers beats as good as the first Madvillainy, except without the same cohesion.
And that, in the end, is my real beef with Madvillainy 2, if you can really call it that. It’s not easy at all to achieve album-length cohesion, where every song contributes to the mood and makes listening from start to finish an experience to really cherish. Madvillainy achieved that cohesion, and I’m sad to say that its “sequel” never comes close. There’s too many odd spoken word interludes, too many beats that peter out before they really get going, and on top of it all is the sense that something strange is going on here and that this album shouldn’t actually exist. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth a listen, especially for those that love Madlib’s producing style; there’s plenty of great music here to savor. All the same, what this album does is really stoke my hunger for the real Madvillainy sequel. Here’s hoping that we don’t get another Chinese Democracy, and that Madvillainy 2 gets to be an interesting little curio instead of the acknowledgment that the dreams of so many will remain forever dashed.