[1 February 2009]
Unlike many of his contemporaries (like MF DOOM, who spent 2008 pretty much ruining his reputation to fans and Internet-heads alike), Madlib did not end his quest to release as many albums as humanly possible. Aside from WLIB AM: King of the Wigflip, he dropped two instrumental Beat Konducta volumes dedicated to the late J Dilla with the help of J-Rocc; worked with Ivan Conti as Jackson Conti to release Sujinho; and remixed Percee P’s Perseverance and Madvillian’s Madvillainy, both of which Madlib had already produced. On top of that, he crafted tracks for Erykah Badu, Guilty Simpson, and various other artists. To call him merely prolific would be an insult. And it’s almost impossible not to think of him as anything other than a blunted genius who never leaves his studio in Oxnard, California.
What we have here is a 24-track, 64-minute collection of tracks featuring the usual guests, like Stones Throw mainstays MED and Roc C, with some others including Prince Po and Murs who all spit over productions from Madlib. The sole outside producer is Karriem Riggins, who helped create the busy, but head-nodding “Heat” as the duo Supreme Team. That track is also one of the few that features Madlib on the mic, which, if you have heard him spit before, can lead to inconsistent results. As expected, “Heat” is no different. Like ‘Lib himself, many of the rappers who hit the booth on this album fail to impress. One of the finest examples of this is the otherwise solid “The Ox (805)”, which has guest appearances by MED and Poke. Although these emcees aren’t wack and they both handle themselves well enough, they fail to bring the heat supplied by the fantastic beat. And tracks like this are why so many hip-hop heads have grown frustrated with Madlib’s non-instrumental albums in the past few years. Even if he kills it behind the boards, nothing can save a song from lackluster vocals or raps. And the twin brother to “The Ox (805)” on here is the Frank N Dank-feature “Drinks Up!”. Again, neither Frank nor Dank, who you know from their work with Dilla, are awful by any means. But when you pair them up with a beat from Madlib like on “Drinks Up!”, which is a dope exercise in minimalism, you are simply left wanting more. Other instances of this misfortune include Roc C and Oh No’s underachieving on “Take That Money” and the solid, but still not overly impressive “The Thang-Thang”, which has Prince Po handling vocal duties.
Luckily for Madlib and his fans, though, he and some of his guests sync up to balance out the weaker parts of WLIB AM. While “The Plan Pt. 1” and “Gamble on Ya Boy” remain just above-average, they are accelerated by spaced-out samples and an explosion of funk, respectively, from ‘Lib. And Georgia Anne Muldrow’s transition from singing to rapping on “The Plan Pt. 1” is commendable while Defari’s efforts on “Gamble on Ya Boy” match the production, even if the hook is boring. Standing above these two cuts is the on-again, off-again pairing of Madlib and Talib Kweli, who worked together on 2007’s Liberation, a fantastic EP that deserves a sequel. They linked up again for “What It Do”, which is a chance for Kweli to once again breathe fire at shit-talkers over a laid-back, smooth musical backdrop. Similarly, Madlib provides a straightforward beat for Murs to spit about one of his favorite topics, women, on “Ratrace”. But the trump card on here comes from “Go!”. Guilty Simpson, perhaps making up for the snooze-fest “Blow the Horns On ‘Em” earlier on the album, brings his A-game for this one. And Madlib laces the beat with grit and a wall of noise that sounds like it crept straight from Simpson’s hometown of Detroit.
Falling in line with the inconsistency put on display by the emcee and singer features are the instrumentals on this album. For every hypnotic beat filled with slick percussion like “The New Resident”, there is an “All Virtue” that lacks a necessary punch. Again, it’s a situation where the less than captivating cuts are not deplorable, but they do not live up to the Madlib standard. He does redeem himself, though, on the ridiculously catchy and aptly-titled “Disco Dance”, but it’s another case of too little, too late. And it’s that sentiment that makes WLIB AM so painfully frustrating. But, perhaps, this is to be expected from someone who idolizes Sun Ra both for his creativity and godly catalog. As often as it seems like Madlib might be a genius, there are records like this that prove true the old adage of “quality versus quantity.”