Prolific doesn’t even begin to describe Stones Throw producer Madlib. He appears on more albums, drops more projects, and has more aliases than anyone in hip-hop. And almost all of his work is, on some level, very much worth your time. But sometimes, even he cannot help stretching himself too thin, such as on the first volume of his 12-part, monthly Madlib Medicine Show series. Subtitled Before the Verdict, this first entry also acts as a prelude of sorts to the producer’s upcoming collaborative album with Guilty Simpson, named O.J. Simpson.
Before the Verdict gets off to a promising start. “Ode to the Ghetto (O.J. Simpson Remix)” is thick, bass-driven madness propelled by Simpson’s guttery bars. It’s accompanied by the equally engrossing remix of “Yikes,” which features plenty of the Detroit MC’s gangsta posturing and booming voice. He also displays his innate ability to stay in the pocket while rhyming, a feat that should be easy for a rapper but is not always realized. That means he rarely sounds awkward or out of place over a beat, even if it’s one of Madlib’s wildest creations. But that trait also gives way to his weakness: a lack of variety in cadence. Outside of his voice and steady flow, Simpson’s rhymes begin to sound droning.
Unfortunately, Before the Verdict begins to fall apart around the middle. It is then that everything, from the beats to Simpson’s raps, becomes monotonous and tiresome. Not to mention the fact that Madlib’s lo-fi production and random soundtrack montages move from fitting to messy. There are moments in the beginning when his outros and scattered samples are perfectly executed, such as on “Lucky Guy.” But even those start to drag. The beat on “Pigs,” for example, is too busy, with the heavy distortion and ongoing vocal samples. It’s essentially just an elongated, remixed version of the same track that appeared on Simpson’s Ode to the Ghetto. The same goes for cuts like “Yikes” and “American Dream & Future,” the latter being two tracks thrown together. Even though Madlib is capable of putting a new spin on these old verses, it’s not enough to save what equates to a jumbled affair from everyone involved.