- A definitive Madlib album, edited and arranged by Four Tet.
- The Madlib track I've been banging the most over the past few months is "Cruddy." Released on an ultra-rare mixtape, it gets to the heart of the California legend's practice. Sonically, it's in line with his psychedelic, distinctly west-coast take on the '90s boom bap sound. Then there's the lyrics. "Why you sample so much?" a skeptical voice asks. "Loopin' records is a habit," Madlib responds. "I be havin' dusty ass fingers, from digging for wax."
Like all diggers, Otis Jackson Jr. is on a lifelong quest for the next record. This ethic applies to his own music as well. Madlib claims to sleep three to four hours a night, and says he stayed up for days making music after the deaths of his collaborators J Dilla and MF DOOM. A deep dive into Madlib's catalogue also requires tireless effort. Beyond classics like Madvillainy and Champion Sound, there are the umpteen Beat Konducta tapes, which hopscotch the globe, exploring Jackson's taste in music from Brazil, India and Jamaica, to name a few. There is his one-man jazz band, Yesterdays New Quintet, his famed helium-voiced rap alter-ego Quasimoto, and his beats for the likes of Mos Def, Freddie Gibbs and Kanye. Madlib is as influential as he is hard to pin down.
Which is where Kieran Hebden comes in. After meeting Madlib and Eothen "Egon" Alapatt, his manager and label partner, at a gig, Four Tet and Madlib became fast friends, bonding over rare records, food and wine. Eventually, Hebden floated the idea of working on an instrumental Madlib album that showcased the range of his beat science, in the vein of DJ Shadow's Endtroducing or Dilla's Donuts. Jackson, unconvinced that anyone wanted to hear extended versions of the beats that often appeared in shorter form on his many tapes, nevertheless sent Hebden 350 tracks in 2018. Hebden didn't make any new sounds for the record, instead immersing himself in editing and arranging. Sound Ancestors is the 40-minute result.
In keeping with the premise, the album is a 16-track grand tour of Madlib's musical interests. He crafts loops out of '60s garage rock ("The Call"), obscure Philly Soul ("Road Of The Lonely Ones"), the minimalist post-punk of Young Marble Giants ("Dirtknock"), and flamenco ("Latino Negro"). The joy and care Hebden took in the editing and arrangement process is palpable. The title track effortlessly moves from gamelan to spiritual jazz. The late album suite of "Hang Out (Phone Off)" and "Two For 2 - For Dilla" covers the classic sound Jackson innovated alongside Dilla and DOOM. All in all, the album feels like a glorious extension of what would happen if Madlib and Four Tet spent a night playing records for each other.
But Sound Ancestors goes far beyond a freewheeling radio set. Jackson, who stopped rapping after Dilla's death, expresses himself through his samples. On "Road Of The Lonely Ones," he uses two songs by The Ethics to craft a spectral lament. "Two For 2 - For Dilla" employs the late producer's dizzying cut-up style in a triumphant chipmunk-soul eulogy. The final track, "Duumbiyay," feels understated, but the sing-song melody comes from a Smithsonian Folkways record documenting jams made in the mid-1950s by six pre-teen boys who lived in New York City public housing. Jackson crafts a joyful jazz tune out of the naive melody, a song of contentment in the vein of Michael White's "The Blessing Song."
"Spirits come into play when you do a certain type of music," Madlib recently told NPR, explaining the album's title. "Sometimes I'm not even doing the music, sometimes that's just sound ancestors." Sound Ancestors is an ideal entry into the world of Madlib. Of course, by this time, he's already searching for the next record, the next loop to elegantly connect the present and the past.
01. There Is No Time (Prelude)
02. The Call
03. Theme De Crabtree
04. Road Of The Lonely Ones
05. Loose Goose
08. Riddim Chant
09. Sound Ancestors
10. One For Quartabê / Right Now
11. Hang Out (Phone Off)
12. Two for 2 - For Dilla
13. Latino Negro
14. The New Normal