|Artist: Talib Kweli and Madlib
Label: Stones Throw (Not an official release; initially offered as a limited time free download, possible future release)
In the post DangerDoom world, I’ve become leery of seemingly infallible duos. Partnerships between musical titans can yield classic affairs (Kool Keith and Dan the Automator’s Dr. Octagonecologyst) or slick trash (Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson’s “Say Say Say”). DangerDoom simply failed to be as interesting as anything in either Dangermouse or Doom’s respective catalogs. So hearing Kweli herald a “Madlib Invazion” had me holding my breath. But Kweli eschews nostalgia (which often stunts progressive rap) in favor of aggressive rhetoric while Madlib, for his part, brings a Dr. Sample chalk-full of accessible soul-loops. Which is to say that both artists find common ground, meeting in the mid-school to play to each other’s strengths.
Madlib lays a strong and generally straightforward foundation. His choice of samples leans heavily on vocal-based soul records. It is arguably more mainstream than, say, the comic jazz pastiche of Quasimoto. Still he finds room to blend in slide whistle and spoken word samples; “The Function” is one of his classically shuffled and swaggered ass-shakers; and Madlib’s slow, nervous rhythm on “Engine Runnin” is reminiscent of Gerald Fried’s drum cadences from Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing. (Appropriately, both themes are musical settings for heists.) But the music doesn’t point toward the cause and conviction of this dense EP.
Kweli explains on “The Show” that “This exercise in freedom is called the Liberation / […] There ain’t no reservations about copping this / even though it’s free for the people there ain’t no stopping this.” Philosophically, the record is about subverting popular media and delivering a quality product at a nonexistent price point. On the issue of shisty promoters, Kweli indicts: “The crowd was so thin he blamed Osama and the twin-tower bombers”; “Over The Counter” finds him doubting the authenticity of the government’s line on 9-11 and comparing the education system to predatory dealers. He anchors the chorus with the run-on pun: “Over-the-counterintelligence.”
On Liberation Kweli delivers sharp concise verses, and leaves room for Madlib to get his. There is a specific instance on “Over the Counter” that communicates this intention, but in a perverse way: after some spacial ambiance is filled in with some commandments from a monstrous, funky voice, an electro-funk groove emerges; Kweli cannot help but remark, “Yea, feel that for a second. I ain’t even gonna say shit for a couple seconds”; But he continues to adlib over the beat (“Gonna let you feel that for a second. It’s Madlib. Yea. Whatchou know about that?” etc.) until his verse begins. With the exception of this strange and glaring instance, the conversation (as Joe Sample would put it) between these two artists is very much two-sided. This is most clear on “What Can I Do.” Madlib brings a bucketful of melodic loops and strings them together in a counter-rhythmic manner that infringes upon the parameters of Kweli’s verse. But no one blinks. The transitions are the pinnacle of Madlib’s performance (on this record) and demonstrate great flexibility on Kweli’s part.
Now, I had a serious Fiesta Bowl-hangover for the first week of ’07 – like on some Paula Abdul shit – and completely slept on the free internet-only release of this remarkable effort. At this point Stones Throw’s official word is to “Stay tuned for possible release,” but luckily, my main man hooked it up with a lo-bias Maxell cassette copy, and I’ll have to just jam with that for the time being. I encourage you to unabashedly seek a similar copy. Having listened to the EP numerous times, I can certify that the collection as much as says: steal this record.