Madvillain – MF DOOM & Madlib (2004)

madvillainy_coverIn this post, I continue the theme of one-album-wonders (see my last post on Blackstar) from a rapper/producer duo.  In terms of abstract, or, experimental hip-hop, Madvillainy is a timeless masterpiece. Most aficionados, including myself, would agree that it’s the best underground experimental album out there. When rapper MF DOOM and producer Madlib joined forces under the alias Madvillain, their goal was to give a twist to everything in hip-hop while highlighting their own eccentricities. They do this in three ways: theme, beats, and lyrics.

  1. Theme. The album’s theme is that of a supervillain in a comic book. Behind his metal mask, MF DOOM’s character is an amalgamation of all comic villains. Best described on the first track, “Madvillain, more accurately, the dark side of our beings. Perhaps due to this seminal connection that audiences can relate their experience in life with the villains and their dastardly doings”.
  2. Beats. Madlib brings back true sampling in this album, and, in a unique and bizarre way. He uses obscure samples of jazz, soul, even Hindi music, as well as 1940s mystery and crime films. All of this while sticking to the running villain concept.
  3. Lyrics. Madvillainy is in my top 5 most lyrically dense and complex albums. DOOM makes use of alliteration, multi-syllable rhyming, and even holorimes where the same rhyme encompasses an entire bar or verse. Very few rappers have the technical skill to do this. Even more, there are no choruses  in the album, so DOOM can focus on wordplay and showing off his slick, yet, laid back delivery.

The most memorable track, mostly because of the humming accordion sample that wouldn’t normally accompany a hip-hop beat. DOOM’s lyrics are dark and densely packed with rhymes and puns, but he doesn’t do anything fancy beyond multi-syllables.


madvillainThis track features DOOM in his element, dropping rhyme after rhyme with deep references. His style is somewhat free associative — meaning he experiments will several literary devices that don’t necessarily make logical sense. For example, his holorime:


Do not stand still, boast yo’ skills
Close but no krills,
toast for po’ nils, post no bills
Coast to coast Joe Shmoe’s flows ill, go chill

Not supposed to overdose No-Doz pills

Do Not Fire!
My favorite part of madvillain is Madlib’s versatility with the board. He cuts samples from the most unsuspecting places and not only backs DOOM’s vocals, but also peppers the album with his own short-but-fitting instrumentals. This track is a case and point. It samples everything from streetfighter to music and dialogue from a 1970s bollywood film. Yes, you read that right.

Other impressive track on the album that I did not include for lack of space include: Meat Grinder, Raid, and Rhinestone Cowboys.


Big Pun(isher)

big-pun1I chose to write about Big Pun because I think I’ve been straying away from this blog’s objective — to draw attention to the lyrical pedigree of my favorite artists. Big Pun is a lyrical heavyweight, in both senses of the term (he was ~700lbs). His characteristic rhyme style is to mix-and-match alliteration, multi-syllabic rhymes, and squeezing as many words into a couplet before taking a breath. This talent is probably the reason Fat Joe linked up with him and the reason he became the first Latino rapper to go platinum. He dies in 2000 from weight issues and only put out one album.

Because of his unique style and inclusion in the “best rappers of all time” arguments, I am choosing three songs to analyze.

This track is genius. It samples a Dr. Dre beat (to strategically get listeners on the west coast) and features a hardcore back-and-forth between Pun and Fat Joe, with Pun spitting possibly one of the most memorable verses in hip-hop:

Dead in the middle of little Italy, little did we know that we riddled some middlemen who didn’t do diddly

Not only is it the most intricately carved alliteration + coupled rhyme masterpiece, but it also makes sense. They’re talking about how their hit went wrong and they shot an innocent bystander.

Super Lyrical
First time I heard this I was mind-blown to see a collab with Black Thought (The Roots), especially since Pun was somewhat unknown at the time. Pun’s first verse might be one of the most advanced pieces of lyricism (in style and meaning) that might only be rivalled by the likes of Eminem. Get a piece of paper and write the first three words with distinct sounds: “Murderous”, “rap”, “actual”. Treat these as column headers and put each subsequent word under the corresponding sound. You’ll see that all three columns fill up and no word goes unrhymed! Same thing goes for the rest of the verse.

Ay-yo my murderous rap verbal attack is actual fact
Tactical tracks match perfectly with graphical stats
Half a you lack the magical dap of tragical rap
That tackles you back and shackles and laughs at you

Fast Money
When people reference Pun as the King of Flow, I think of this track. The second verse first packs all his talent together. Two things stand out to me: First, he hardly takes any breaths. Second, in his one-liner

Aiyyo the plot thickens I’m pickin the locks in the back entrance

he literally reverses the plot thickens to pickin the locks, and then brings it back to the original compound rhyme. In numbers, this is 12-21-12. I can’t think of any other rapper who does this.