I got into Madlib through the producer’s excellent collaboration with Detroit rapper, Guilty Simpson, last year, a record entitled OJ Simpson. Being a neophyte to the man’s music, the album struck me as something groundbreaking, the guy’s incessant use of samples from a bygone era spliced between beats that seemed to span the musical palette as efficiently as the samples seem to encapsulate a set time period and yet no time period at all. Sure, Guilty Simpson did a pretty good job, but it was clear that Madlib was the centerpiece of the show, weaving grooves into places whose creators never had any intention of being manipulated in such a way; the most subversive thing I’ve probably ever heard.
Come to find out, in the year 2010, Madlib embarked on project to release twelve albums in as many months. The fact that I’m writing about this right now should be indication enough that he was not quite successful in reaching his deadline, but that slacking in the man’s promise should not in any way take away from the fact that, on Madlib’s eleventh installment of his Madlib Medicine Show series, he still has a mind to create some fantastic music in such a short span of time.
Anyone who has heard OJ Simpson will see some major similarities between that record and Low Budget Hi Fi Music. For one, those samples that served as indirect characters on OJ Simpson are extremely present here. I even recognized one of them in Guilty Simpson’s contribution to the record “Thoughts of an Old Flame” (It’s the famous SNL sketch in which Chevy Chase and Richard Pryon rattle off racial slurs at each other, but, in this context, I can understand someone hearing it and thinking it was recorded at a much earlier time). The samples on Low Budget serve as mostly interludes that catch the ear for about a minute before throttling you back into a new Madlib-certified bag of tricks, and it’s just as effective this go around as it was on OJ Simpson.
What is different between this and OJ, though, is that the rappers on Low Budget are a lot more memorable. As I mentioned before, Guilty Simpson did a decent job on OJ Simpson, but his voice was featured on less than half of the album’s tracks. Here, between the Madlib-helmed instrumentals and samples, other weirdo rappers Oh No and Strong Arm Steady perform excellently on the three minutes or so that they are given. It’s really an astonishing thing to think about how nearly every performer on Low Budget Hi Fi Music manages to get at least one memorable line in before the listener is thrust into a completely different soundscape. The Professionals probably come out of it with the best performance, “And I am not here for your enjoyment/And I am not here for your girl’s employment” coming readily to mind as a personal favorite line. All of this happens while Madlib pumps out outstanding beat after beat that flushes your eardrums with disparate sounds from jazz to hardcore, making beats that I can imagine distinct luminaries Busta Rhymes, Jay Electronica and Cee-Lo Green performing on at different times.
If I have one major critique of Low Budget Hi Fi Music, it is that there is too much creativity on display here. Where OJ Simpson was an “experience” record whose product was much greater than the sum of its parts, this has far too many good things going for it interchanging between themselves at frustratingly spare intervals, it’s not a wonder to ask why many of the beats and performances on the album couldn’t be further expanded upon. Of course, this is how Madlib operates; like OJ Simpson, Low Budget Hi Fi Music is made up of about ten complete songs and the twenty other tracks ranging from two minutes to eight seconds. Asking Madlib to slow things down betrays the whole aesthetic in which the man works, and also sounds trite when talking about an album a month project. So Madlib’s problem is the best problem to have, and, if nothing else, this eleventh installment of the Medicine Show Series is proof that fans of his will not starve for new ideas any time soon.