Madvillain Madvillainy

20 Years of Madvillain’s Endlessly Creative ‘Madvillainy’

Madvillain’s Madvillainy remains an unforgettable underground hip-hop album, combining Madlib’s distinctive beats with MF DOOM’s precisely designed rhymes.

Stones Throw Records
23 March 2004

To find the catalyst of the ceaselessly beloved Madvillain project, a duo consisting of the elusive and ever-prolific Madlib and the late, great MF DOOM, you must look towards Peanut Butter Wolf. This is the stage name of the founder of Stones Throw Records, the Los Angeles-based label that, along with Rhymesayers and Definitive Jux, was arguably the best platform for underground hip-hop artists to release music at the time. Daniel Dumile, aka MF DOOM, got a call from Peanut Butter Wolf one day in the early 2000s, suggesting that he and Stones Throw artist Madlib, aka Otis Jackson Jr., would work well together. Both Dumile and Jackson Jr. were gaining traction with their respective works. Their careers were starting to pick up momentum, and 2004 marked the tipping point of Madlib and MF DOOM’s respective brands, notably DOOM, because of his image as a masked rapper.

Underground hip hop in the early to mid-2000s was relatively busy. This might be due to the enduring audience of socially conscious, jazz-influenced rap, or backpack rap. Still, it could have also been a response to the party and pop rap stylings of Ja Rule, G-Unit, and Lil Jon, among other mainstream artists. However, Dumile and Jackson Jr. didn’t pay much attention to the state of hip-hop. Having similarly slack creative processes and finding each other agreeable upon meeting, they haphazardly got to work on what they could make. It was their devil-may-care attitude that imbued Madvillainy with its unique appeal.

Recorded in a bomb shelter and released through Stones Throw, Madvillainy is Madvillain’s only studio album. Its composition was helmed by unconcerned, good-spirited people. Still, even if the album was lackadaisically created as just another output of creativity or a means to make money to support themselves and their family, it scans as a brilliant exhibition of tightly designed rap music with a clear aesthetic. Madvilliany is a prime example of DOOM’s lyrical style and Madlib’s beat sensibilities.

Madlib’s beats primarily consist of splicing samples together into sonic collage works, typically over 4/4 drum patterns. He flips portions of 1960s and 1970s funk, jazz, folk rock, and world music into beats that resemble action scenes from cartoons and comic books, which is the aesthetic that fits DOOM’s character. Madlib is a crate digger, meaning he’s the kind of producer who goes to record stores, basements, garages, or anywhere that an extensive collection of records waits for curious fingers. These are gold mines for producers like Madlib, who love to pull pieces of obscure songs lost in music history and use them as samples in his beats.

Madlib tirelessly exercised his beat-making skills. Because of this, he quickly builds up an abundance of beats, which can be seen in the number of releases credited to Otis Jackson Jr. under one of his many pseudonyms (seven in 2004, including Madvillainy, maybe more). It also shows in the lengthy 22-track listing on Madvillainy and the instrumental tracks sprinkled throughout: “Sickfit”, “Do Not Fire!”, and “Supervillain Theme”. Aside from the opening instrumental co-produced by DOOM, “The Illest Villains”, it almost seems like DOOM couldn’t keep up with Madlib’s overflowing creativity.

As undeniably towering as DOOM’s presence is on the LP, he’s absent on six tracks, two of them, “Hardcore Hustle” and “Eye”, solely feature rapping and singing from former Madlib collaborator Wildchild and Stacey Epps, respectively. Despite the absence of DOOM’s distinguished lyricism, Wildchild’s verse is positively delivered with a lively attitude. Epps’s sweet singing voice (along with DOOM’s haphazard, lazy singing on “Rainbows” and “Great Day”) offers a break from Madvillainy‘s cerebral rap verses. The featured artists certainly spike up the pulse of the record. In “Raid”, DOOM’s energy is complimented by a verse from the explosive M.E.D., another MC signed to Stones Throw. These features round out and expand the project’s sound, attitude, and collaborative element.

Madlib has professed that thinking is not a part of his creative process, so he doesn’t speak much, and when he does, he isn’t good at articulating his ability to make exceptional beats. He never allows himself the possibility to second-guess his work because he’s such a forward mover, and to Madlib, it seems that quantity is as important as quality. However, his idiosyncratic personality may be why he and Dumile got along instantly when they met. Dumile was also a man of creative passions, although his creativity focused on hip-hop’s defining side: language. 

Most of Madvillainy is composed of verses, except “America’s Most Blunted”, which contains the closest thing to a refrain and may be why it was included with the release of “Money Folder” as the first single. Madvillain never shot a video for the single, but it managed to tease some interest in listeners, especially those already following both artists and underground hip-hop in general. Three more singles, “All Caps”, “Accordion”, and “Rhinestone Cowboy”, more accurately carry the singular charm of Madvillainy through lax rap verses over sometimes farcical, sometimes pleasant production. Considering the record’s loose nature, Madvillainy can easily be called the epitome of slapdash, stoner hip-hop, especially considering how much both artists are obviously very fond of and boast about smoking marijuana.

Being a dual collaboration, half of the appeal of Madvillainy comes from DOOM’s keenly crafted rhymes, all delivered at a nonchalantly syncopated pace. DOOM’s thought patterns come in the form of stream-of-consciousness, free association expressions with little to no editing and loaded with assonance, holorimes, and some of the most impressive multi-syllable rhymes on record. DOOM is a writer through and through, and the avenue that he chose for his writerly exhibition was hip-hop. His rhymes can only be written with the care and meandering thought of someone with an obsessive mind wrapped around the art of manipulating language. It’s the only way to reach DOOM’s sense of eloquence and density of wordplay.

DOOM had the fascination, conviction, and tongue-and-lip coordination to pull off distinctive rhymes like those in “Curls”, a song that illustrates crude sexual promiscuity with eloquence and style atypical to the way rappers often refer to sex. His mastery of internal rhymes and double meanings is at full display within the beginning lines: “Villain get the money like curls / They just tryin’ to get a nut like squirrels in his mad world / Land of milk and honey with the swirls / Where reckless naked girls get necklaces of pearls.”

In “Figaro”, DOOM takes two vowel sounds and milks them for four bars of rhymes: “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” It’s frivolous and borderline senseless, but that’s part of the sport and charm of DOOM’s rhyming style. Imagine the concentration it took to perform these songs, not only in the studio but live on stage. An incredible writer and performer like DOOM certainly had the verbal prowess and love for his craft to pull it off.

“Meat Grinder” is one of the finest songs on Madvillain’s Madvilliany for its thick, jazzy bassline in the foreground and DOOM’s total onslaught of free association lyrics. The song is packed with non-sequiturs and unusual pop culture references from an American professional fitness coach to a song by Big Daddy Kane to obscure lines of shoes, including Adidas Rod Lavers and Ellesses. “All Caps” has a bold, piano-driven beat made of samples from a 1970s TV show theme. Both artists are distinctive and focused on their particular styles, and this shows in the album’s jazzy, comical sonic aesthetic.

DOOM speaks a classy jazz lounge show introduction on “Bistro.” Listeners can imagine him on stage in a tuxedo at a microphone as he introduces Madlib’s many recording aliases as well as his own monikers as different characters gather together behind him. Madlib provides rap verses on “America’s Most Blunted” and “Shadows of Tomorrow” as Quasimoto, his alias as a duo of rappers comprised of Madlib’s natural deep voice and Lord Quas, which is Madlib’s voice sped up to a higher pitch. He’s another autonomous character in the array of identities in the seemingly dissociative arsenal between DOOM and Madlib.

These campy characters have different points of view and thus speak in various ways, imbuing the album with an amusing, character-driven glamour. “Fancy Clown” contains the most aggressive lyrics on the album and is performed by Viktor Vaughn, one of Dumile’s personas who hates DOOM. It’s a verbal assault with a silly premise that allowed Dumile to play around with the idea of speaking through personas and having them interact with each other.

Madvillain have undoubtedly left a lasting impression on fans and contemporary artists alike. Joey Badass, Danny Brown, Flying Lotus, and Earl Sweatshirt have admitted that the work of DOOM and Madlib has heavily inspired their music. Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, has expressed much admiration for DOOM’s unusual rhyming sensibilities. He also chose to work with Madlib and Mos Def’s third and final album, 2008’s The Ecstatic. In 2016, 12 years after the album’s release, Marvel Comics released a variant cover of Mighty Thor #1, illustrated by Mike Deodato Jr., inspired by Madvilliany album art, again exhibiting the longevity of the LP’s magnetism.

Aside from the singles “Monkey Suite” and “Papermill”, Madlib and MF DOOM chose not to work together at length again. Truthfully, Madvillain were never going to make another album. Perhaps they considered it after finishing Madvillainy and even after the album’s release. However, the more popularity it garnered, the less likely another album would happen. Over the years, too much anticipation has built up, too much pressure for Madlib and DOOM, which is the opposite of the state of mind that conceived of Madvillainy. Because they couldn’t approach the project with a carefree mentality, a follow-up to Madvillainy would have ostensibly been a torturous chore for Madvillain and a disappointment to fans. No one would have been happy with it.

Madvillainy wasn’t intended to be a hit, considering the hip-hop soundscape of the time, which is why it stayed underground. It isn’t a polished commercial product, but it is a recognizable gem representing the pure art of rap.


MF DOOM – Interview with the Masked Villain.” YouTube, uploaded by Red Bull Music Academy, May 14, 2015.

Madlib Talks Sampling, Freddie Gibbs, J Dilla and More.” YouTube, uploaded by Red Bull Music Academy, May 14, 2015.