I was this close to giving up on hip-hop. Okay, that’s not true, but for a while now, I’ve been frustrated with my options. Mainstream rap has consistently been hit or miss, with pioneers like Jay-Z often being eclipsed by a chorus of Nellys or Lil Jons. Even the best of the best, from Outkast to Kanye West, have a tendency to release albums too heavily weighted with skits, intros, outros and shout-outs. But the underground has its share of played out cliches as well, primarily stemming from an unnatural tendency to live every year like it’s 1991. And don’t even get me started on “emo” rap.
Then comes along MF DOOM, one Daniel Dumile, a veteran rapper who got his start in early ’90s rap outfit KMD but now sticks to wearing a Dr. Doom mask and playing a comic book villain. Madvillainy, DOOM’s collaboration with producer Madlib, turns the conventions and traditions of hip-hop upside down, resulting in a strange, almost Dadaist mixture of mind-blowing wordplay, hilarity, hi-jinks and ultra-cool jazzy samples from Madlib’s miles of crates.
In short, Madvillain is exactly what frustrated hip-hop fans like myself have been craving for a long, long time. DOOM and Madlib don’t succumb to the trappings of caveman misogyny or pop-rap mundanity. Instead, Madvillainy offers 22 tracks (most under two minutes) of fun, escapist, imaginative hip-hop. In contrast to Wu-Tang style superhero alter-egos like Bobby Digital, Tony Starks or Johnny Blaze, Madvillain stays consistent and light-hearted with campy comic book themes and quirky cartoon and cop show samples. It’s not too far off from Kool Keith’s incarnation as Dr. Octagon, but not nearly as bizarre.
However, DOOM’s portrayal of himself as a supervillain is more of the average, everyday villain variety. He’s just showing everyone how a diabolical character like himself goes about his day, saving the evildoing for another album, perhaps. Madlib’s production is crackly and warm, providing a fun environment for DOOM to flex his lyrical muscles. And dude can drop some mad science. His wordplay can range from seamless flows (“They say Madvillain spit enough lightnin’/to rock the boogie down to Brighton/A’ight then“) to silly one-liners (“Spit so many verses, sometimes my jaw twitches/one thing this party needs is more…ahem…booze“).
Madlib and DOOM have crafted what may be the hip-hop album of the year. It’s a blast from the get-go and never gets old. With songs so short, it doesn’t give itself much of a chance to wear out its welcome. Madvillainy has restored my excitement toward hip-hop, but it also set a much higher standard for the rest of the genre to live up to.
Viktor Vaughn – Vaudeville Villain
Dr. Octagon – Dr. Octagonecologyst
RJD2 – Dead Ringer
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.