Deejay, producer, rap musician
As one of hip-hop's most prolific producers, Madlib remained oddly unknown in the genre's mainstream circles for many years. But under the guises of Madlib, Quasimoto, Madvillain, Jaylib, Beat Conductor, and Yesterday's New Quintet, Otis Jackson Jr. forged an uncommonly successful path in underground hiphop, recording up to 12 hours a day and only occasionally surfacing to tour.
Madlib was born Otis Jackson Jr. in 1973, into a very musical home in Oxnard, California, an hour away from Los Angeles. His father, Otis Sr., was an accomplished bandleader and session musician for the likes of Tina Turner, Bobby "Blue" Bland, and Johnnie Taylor. His mother was a songwriter and folk and blues guitarist, and his uncle was the jazz director at Carnegie Hall and a one-time trumpeter in Dizzy Gillespie's band. Needless to say, the Jacksons' musical legacy—and record collections—had a strong impact on the soulful, jazz-inflected style of hip-hop for which Madlib would later become known. "I grew up in the studio," he told Jockey Slut in 2003. "When I was small that's where I'd always be, that's where I'm most comfortable."
Jackson first came to prominence with Lootpack, a group that he formed with high school friends Jack Brown (a.k.a. MC Wildchild) and Romeo Jimenez (a. k.a. DJ Romes) in the early 1990s. Their old-school revivalist ethos was indicative of much of the West Coast's hip-hop scene at the time. The group's career began to take off while they were in college, when their demo tape caught the attention of rapper King Tee of Tha Alkaholiks. Lootpack helped produce some of the cuts on Tha Alkaholiks' debut, 21 and Over. In 1996 the group produced their first EP, Psyche Move, a project funded by Madlib's father. The strength of that record, however, caused Bay Area DJ Peanut Butter Wolf to sign them to his Stones Throw label. After a few singles for the label, 1999's Soundpieces: Da Antidote! was released and caused a stir in underground circles, as it showcased both Madlib's production and rapping prowess. Made with minimal gear and on a shoestring budget, Soundpieces: Da Antidote! proved to be a model for hip-hop production. In fact, when making D'Angelo's Voodoo album, producers Jay Dee and Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson used Antidote! as a framework. "[Madlib]'s what's right about hip-hop," Thompson commented in Vibe. "He can make whole compositions with 12 seconds of sampling time. It's like having a sugar packet, maybe one egg, and a little bit of flour, and making a delicious cake."
Other singles followed Soundpieces: Da Antidote!, but the media was more attracted to Madlib's skills than to his involvement in Lootpack. While the group still performed shows, their recorded output fell by the wayside, and Madlib took to the studio on his own. During Lootpack's later years, Madlib was working on a number of solo projects, one being the madly inventive Quasimoto, a freakishly high-pitched MC persona that he both performed and produced. The Unseen —Quasimoto was never to be seen in pictures or in live performance—was Madlib's first release under the moniker. As well as receiving high honors from the music press, Spin named The Unseen its 17th best album of the year, commenting: "What he finds is the sampladelic spirit of '89, through a daisy haze of violated soul-jazz and pooched Redd Foxx records. And what unfolds is indie-hop's Zen Arcade, " referring to Husker Du's landmark album.
Never one to rest on his laurels, Madlib created yet another alias, Yesterday's New Quintet (YNQ), where he "played" all five members of the band. Of his numerous names, he told Planet, "I just don't want Madlib all out there like that. I wanna fool people, make it different."
Without any proper training, Jackson learned to play the vibes and upright bass in a matter of weeks, recording as he went. Some of the songs "are like two weeks after I got the Fender Rhodes [electric piano]. I didn't have any knowledge of playing. I'm not really that great but I can piece stuff together," he told Straight No Chaser. As YNQ, Jackson recorded and produced more than 15 cover albums of jazz and soul, although many were never released. Angles Without Edges in 2001 was the first official release from the band, later to be followed by Stevie, Vol. 1, a collection of Stevie Wonder interpretations.
Although it was a bit abstract, his jazz-loving family had a great deal of respect for the YNQ project. "They tripped out when I showed them Yesterdays," Jackson explained to Straight No Chaser. "I did that for them 'cos they know me as hip hop but I wanted to show them that I could do different types of music too. They were the last ones to hear it but they really liked it."
In addition to his traditionally recorded material, Madlib was constantly in demand for his mixing and remixing skills. In 2002 the Trojan label gave him free rein to mix their classic dub and reggae catalog, and he produced Blunted in the Bomb Shelter Mix, a reference to his Bomb Shelter studio located in the basement of the Stones Throw office. Numerous artists, from Jill Scott to the Beastie Boys, enlisted his remixing expertise for their own records. His most notable remix project came in 2003, when jazz label Blue Note approached him to remix and manipulate much of their catalog. Having the utmost respect for the label's work, he took extreme care with Shades of Blue, which was released to critical acclaim.
That year also saw Madlib's collaboration with Detroit-based producer/MC Jay Dee (a.k.a James Yancey) under the name Jaylib. So much of Madlib's underground success paralleled Jay Dee's that the two seemed destined for a prosperous cross-pollination. Yancey had been a member of Slum Village, and after producing records for D'Angelo, Common, Erykah Badu, and Janet Jackson, he recorded some of his own rough-hewn hip-hop. Madlib made his own bootlegged tracks, using Jay Dee's instrumentals as the groundwork for his new songs. When Yancey caught wind of the new creations, the two decided to start a more official collaboration. By recording beats, sending them to one another, and then rapping over the tracks—along with guests like Talib Kweli and Frank-N-Dank—Champion Sound was born.
Madvillain, Jackson's 2004 collaboration with the mysterious MF DOOM, produced even more critically lauded abstract hip-hop. Deemed "one of the most anticipated releases in underground rap history" by Pitchfork Media, the resulting album Madvillainy also saw a short supporting tour by the record's often-reclusive participants, bringing both MF DOOM and Madlib into a more public light.
For the Record …
Born Otis Jackson Jr. in 1973, in Oxnard, CA; son of musicians Sinesca and Otis Jackson Sr.
Formed Lootpack in early 1990s; released Psyche Move, 1995; released Soundpieces: Da Antidote!, 1999; began solo career as Quasimoto and released The Unseen, 2000; as Yesterday's New Quintet, released Angles Without Edges, 2001; released Stevie, Vol. 1, 2004; mixed Blunted in the Bomb Shelter Mix, 2002; remixed Blue Note Records' catalog as Madlib; released Shades of Blue, 2003; released Jaylib collaboration Champion Sound with Jay Dee, 2003; released Madvillain collaboration Madvillainy with MF DOOM, 2004.
(With Lootpack) Psyche Move, CDP, 1995.
(With Lootpack) Soundpieces: Da Antidote!, Stones Throw, 1999.
(As Quasimoto) The Unseen, Stones Throw, 2000.
(As Yesterday's New Quintet) Angles Without Edges, Stones Throw, 2001.
Blunted in the Bomb Shelter Mix, Antidote, 2002.
Shades of Blue, Blue Note, 2003
(With Jay Dee, as Jaylib) Champion Sound, Stones Throw, 2003.
(As Yesterday's New Quintet) Stevie, Vol. 1, Stones Throw, 2004.
(With MF DOOM, as Madvillain) Madvillainy, Stones Throw, 2004.
Jockey Slut, October 2003.
Planet, Fall 2003.
Spin, February 2001.
Straight No Chaser, October 2002.
URB, March 2004.
Vibe, January 2002.
"Lootpack," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 2, 2004).
"Madlib," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (March 2, 2004).
"Madvillainy," Pitchfork Media, http://www.pitchforkmedia.com/record-reviews/m/madvillain/madvillainy.html (June 13, 2004).
Additional information was provided by Stones Throw publicity materials, 2003.
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