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Hip-hop is so self-conscious, often battling itself over what
"keepin' it real" really means. The conflicted psyche is split into the
binary of mass-appeal rap versus underground loyalists. In a constant
tug of war of diverging aesthetics and sensibilities, the underground
remains in a nostalgic flashback of the pure, minimalist old-school
era; the mainstreamers are pictured -- and sometimes picture themselves
-- as the deviant ones, more concerned with gangsterism,
hyper-consumerism, geography and misogyny. But the underground
sometimes fails to notice that it's the mainstream's popularity that
has spawned a global phenomenon that has impacted and empowered
communities socially, politically and economically. Out of hip-hop's
constant conflicted state comes Madvillainy, showing us that it's not wrong -- but that it's damn right -- to keep it "unreal" in hip-hop culture.


The search for "realness" in hip-hop seems to be called into
question immediately with the duo's penchant for aliases. In a culture
obsessed with "realness," the preference for aliases has become
somewhat of an ironic but creative necessity. Originally signed to
Elektra, MF Doom went by Zev Love X of the defunct New York duo KMD
(Doom's brother and musical partner in that group, DJ Subroc, was
killed in a car accident in 1993). But after a fallout with Elektra
over some racially charged imagery on an album cover, Doom has since
released dark and eccentric tracks and LPs as Viktor Vaughn and King
Geedorah. MF stands for the metal face that he adorns, which "covers up
what the industry has done to him." Madlib, Doom's partner and sound
provider on Madvillainy,
is a member of Lootpack, Jaylib, and the jazz group Yesterday's New
Quintet (which does have five "members," but all are different
incarnations of Madlib himself). He also goes by his sped-up-voiced
alter-ego Quasimoto, and on Madvillainy, Lord Quas.

Names and histories aside, Madvillainy is subtly reminiscent of De La Soul's (rather unconscious) consciousness of self on Buhloone Mindstate, released in 1993
as hip-hop's identity was shifting from afro-centricity to West Coast
G-funk. In 2003, Doom and Madlib were laying down some of the best
records -- hip-hop or otherwise -- of the year in Viktor Vaughn's Vaudeville Villain, King Geedorah's Take Me To Your Leader, Madlib's project with Jay Dee Jaylib, and Madlib's interpretation of Blue Note classics on Shades of Blue, among others. In the creation of Madvillainy, their mash-up of aural styles suggests a version of hip-hop that isn't just represented by a Benz or a backpack.

Even as Doom covers topics that are highly accessible (girls,
war, rhyme skills), he offers an eccentric style of
stream-of-consciousness delivery and playful wordplay that expands
hip-hop vernaculars. Doom balances his typically darker sonic moods
with his colorful lyritricity, complementing Madlib's eccentric beat
conductions. On "Operation Lifesaver," Doom describes how he offers
breath mints when striking up a conversation with a lady in a club. In
"All Caps," Doom pens: "Whip up a slice of nice verse pie/ Hit it on
the first try/ Villain is the worst guy/ Spot hot tracks like spot a
pair of fat asses." Is there anything that Doom won't or can't say on
this track to describe himself? Who knew a woman's ass could be a style
point of reference?

Amongst the multiplicity of aliases and alternative poetics, the realest feeling on Madvillainy
comes from the production aesthetics that Madlib employs. Madlib's
preference for sampling live instrumentation in the current age of
computer/machine-produced beats provides a human texture to the
production. Songs like "Rainbow" and "Fancy Clown" demonstrate the
organic feel of sampling of real voices and rare and raw jazz and funk
grooves (with the pops and imperfections of the records intact) that
Madlib is widely known for. Even with "real" instrumentation, Doom and
Madlib continue to re-conceptualize the blueprints of their hip-hop
houses by rippin' battle raps over a beat with probably the least
bounce-worthy instrument ever on "Accordian."

In the never-ending search for "realness" in hip-hop music, Madvillainy effortlessly makes new hip-hop without feeling the need to talk about authenticity. Everything is everything, and Madvillainy shows the "unrealities" of hip-hop can be meaningful just the same.