More Mystical Madlib Music – “Sound Ancestors” Review
There’s plenty of mystery surrounding the life and work of Madlib. One of hip hop’s famed producers, his discography seems to grow with a regularity paradoxically shrouded in uncertainty. When artist-producer Four Tet let slip news of an upcoming collaborative project between the two, the months from October until this January were a mix of excitement and curiosity for any fans of the two. Madlib has been around for years and years, with hands in everything from underground rap to beat tapes and Freddie Gibbs albums. When the lead single “Road Of The Lonely Ones” was released, it gave us a taste of what was to come: enthralling soul samples and dusty, driven drums. What can we say? The wait was worth it.
A Madlib Mashup
The sound waves that shape the sand of the cover art stand for much more than a visual representation of this project. When you toss on the headphones and lean back into the world of Madlib, you quickly learn it’s not just about the flutes and drums themselves, but the feelings they convey. Relying solely on the classifications of all the instruments involved in this diaspora microcosm would send you in a thousand directions. Otis Jackson Jr. (Madlib) is well known for his wide-ranging compositions, often messy while simultaneously finely tuned. Each track seems to suck you into its own unique exploratory journey, from the reggae-infused “Theme De Crabtree,” to the lowkey drum roll and sparkling keys of “Hang Out.” The samples throughout are sparse but meticulously placed, offering the vocal textures needed to hold the spinning and winding songs together.
The creation behind this record is- you guessed it- covered in mystery. Legend has it that Jackson formulated the individual pieces to be used in the project before sending them bit by bit to Kieran Hebden (Four Tet) for the final composing hand. It’s a well-known fact that Madlib is very much a crate digger, surgically tearing apart and chopping together the most obscure samples to create moving soundscapes. While Hebden will say that he had very little influence on the album, Jackson is sure to remind us (in an interview with NPR) “He added his mojo to it — and new instruments.” The free jazz and psychedelic tendencies of Madlib’s music are as apparent as ever in this new installment, fused together by the intricate electronic touch of Four Tet.
The finished product is a culmination of a wide array of recent Madlib creations. From studio recordings to 60’s guitar riffs, the journey across time and space is ethereal. Four Tet’s insistent pressure on Madlib to drop an instrumental album was the catalyst for what may be one of Madlib’s greatest works yet. The spread in not only global cultural sounds but decades as well is packaged perfectly. It’s cohesive and gripping. while loose enough to draw you into its atmosphere and still keep your feet lifted off the ground. The samples are as organic as it gets, like the young person’s tribal singing over the top of frantic, quiet drums and keys on “Duumbiyay.” It practically glues itself together, a mashup of sounds and feelings that encapsulate the world of Madlib, and if you allow it, your own world as well.
Overall, it can be said that this isn’t the Madlib for the masses. The samples and pace veer into what may be unfamiliar territory for many. Instrumental albums, even with vocal textures, leave much up to interpretation. This leads to meaning and symbolism being intertwined with the complex instrumentals. While created in 2020, the reach of these tracks span the Earth and the stories it’s seen. Fleshed out and full of depth, this joint effort from the two talented and inspired producers has delivered a piece of art that is bigger than us…
But that gives you plenty of time and space to explore.