June 13, 2009

Reader Review: Madvillain (Madlib + MF DOOM) - Madvillainy (March 24, 2004)

(Here's something you probably didn't expect. For today's post, Nicolo helps HHID meet its Madlib and MF DOOM quota (I hate writing that guy's name in all caps) by discussing their project, Madvillain, and their debut album Madvillainy. I only just recently found this in my crates and want to write about this soon, but since Nicolo got to it first, he gets first crack at it. Enjoy!)

Although there are a handful of great hip hop albums that have yet to be reviewed by Max but deserve consideration and recognition here on Hip Hop Isn’t Dead, one LP stands alone to me as an album that was inexplicably overlooked in the hip hop community, yet made a large splash in a more… should I say, Pitchfork Media demographic. This is also the perfect opportunity to have another MF DOOM album reviewed on the blog.

Madvillainy is the first effort by the group Madvillain, which is made up of long-standing hip hop stalwarts DJ/Producer/MC Madlib and MC/Producer MF DOOM. Although Madlib and Doom (I have officially stopped writing the name in all caps for the rest of this review) make music on opposite ends of the country, they have oddly parallel careers. Both got their starts in obscure underground outfits (Lib in Lootpack, Doom in KMD) that never quite made it, but were taken under the wing of more successful peers (Tha Alkaholiks and 3rd Bass, respectively). Both are also extremely prolific, and have performed under more pseudonyms than you can shake a stick at. When it was first revealed that the two would make an album together, it turned a lot of heads, perhaps due to the fact that Doom, at least, was in the prime of his career.

Madvillainy was almost universally reviewed positively upon its release, but like I mentioned before, was a miss in the hip hop community. As far as I know, the album wasn’t even reviewed by the Source, XXL, etc, and on top of that, a friend of mine who is the biggest Doom fan I know is still indifferent to it to this day. I was first introduced to the album by a friend who was more of an indie rock fan than anything else, but for this review I will be taking another listen to each track from a more hip hop perspective. You may remember from my last appearance on this blog that I like to review long albums. This one is no different.

You can already hypothesize how Doom and Lib’s style will mesh from this Intro. A sullen, jazzy instrumental backs one of those comic book-style narrations that don’t quite make sense that you can hear on any given Doom album.

Madlib’s instrumental can get boring after a couple of listens, but this is one of the more accessible songs on the album. Doom is in strong form, complementing humorous battle rhyme musings with obscure pop-culture references.

This song is just awesome. Featuring beatnik bass and the best use of sitar in a rap song since "Bonita Applebum", Doom almost sounds like he’s spitting spoken word poetry. This song also contains my personal favorite couplet from the album: “Borderline schizo, sorta fine tits though.” Hilarious.

Madlib/Quasimoto/Yesterday’s New Quintet and MF Doom/King Ghedorah/Viktor Vaughn introduce all their various alter-egos.

This song was the catalyst for Madvillainy in finding its place among a plethora of alternative critic’s top-ten of the year lists. The reason? Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke included this track on a Celebrity Playlist of his. The accolade paid in dividends for the group, leading to the aforementioned critical acclaim and even garnering a Doom/Yorke collaboration on Doom’s latest album, Born Like This. Yes ladies and gentlemen, Thom Yorke is now a rap producer (but only on an iTunes bonus track). Oh and the song? It’s not bad. M.E.D.’s appearance is a well-appreciated change of pace from Doom.

Madlib is already legendary in the rap community as a producer with trippy tendencies, but this song cements him in stoner rap subculture. I’m not publicly condoning weed smoking to all you readers, but the song makes a compelling case to listen to this album with an altered state of mind. Whatever your morals are, the little tidbits (especially the segment at the end) that Madlib works into the song about marijuana are very funny.

The first of a couple instrumentals sprinkled throughout the album.

Apparently Mos Def covers this song in concerts on a regular basis. This isn’t surprising to me at all: I saw Mos Def in concert last summer and only about half the songs he performed were his.

This song, similarly to the majority of the album for me, took multiple listens to appreciate. It epitomizes the album, however: under two minutes long, stream-of-consciousness lyrics and sublime yet eccentric production.


The small break at the beginning of the song ruins the momentum, but overall this may be the best display of Doom’s ability to carry a song on this album. Although he doesn’t get a chance on Madvillainy because the songs are so short, Doom has great bar-spitting stamina and a good flow, qualities evidenced on Operation: Doomsday and the Vaudeville Villain albums.

Trippiest song on the album. Hell, Quas even shouts out Sun Ra at the end of the song.

Kind of funny if you listen to it once, but in the long run it’s only worth not skipping because it’s a minute and a half long.

Maybe the most traditional hip hop song of the album. Pretty good.

Former Lootpack cohort Wildchild joins the party for this track, but the beat isn’t that great, and Doom doesn’t even appear on it. This song is just alright for me.

Madlib impresses with some boom-bap on this track. The beat outshines the rhymes on here a bit, though. The interlude at the end makes me chuckle.

The most story-driven and non-abstract of any of the Doom’s appearances on the album is also the most ironic. Doom appears as his alter-ego Viktor Vaughn in this track, the give-away coming when Doom essentially makes fun of himself in the lyrics. It took me a couple of listens to get the story, but other than that this is a great song.

18. EYE
A trip-hoppy song with a female vocalist that is credited as Stacy Epps. It’s not the type of song you’d expect from Madlib until you consider the J Dilla influence, which is obvious here.


It’s fitting that Doom made a song like this at some point. Although it isn’t a fully committed effort towards the reason he spells his name in all caps or wears a mask, it is as much as you’re going to get from him. The beat draws you in nice as well. This is a solid song.

This is another great song. The beat is the smoothest on the whole album and Doom is consistently witty in his choice of metaphors.

I think they made a video for this song. I’m not really sure why, though, this track isn’t really good enough to be a single. Nevertheless, it’s good enough way to end the album.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Quite frankly, I’m at a loss to why this album isn’t mentioned more often among the better rap releases of the last 5 years. Madvillainy embraces its experimental tendencies, but overall is a consistent, album-driven hip hop album. Maybe it’s a matter of timing that it wasn’t more popular (hell, Little Brother didn’t even get play, and bloggers love that stuff), but most importantly, this album transcends any kind of age discrimination because sounds like it could have been released in the 90’s. Incidentally, when questioning how “hip hop” this album is, there are a couple of old school rap samples throughout the album (notably Just Ice’s “Cold Getting Dumb” on “Supervillain Theme”). Don’t get me wrong, though, this is still an alternative hip hop album, but it stands as a classic in the genre, along with Deltron 3030 and Dr. Octagonecologyst.

BUY OR BURN: Buy buy buy. And get the entire album: this release wasn’t meant to listen to in terms of individual songs. It’s a complete effort.

BEST SONGS: “Accordion”; “Meat Grinder”; “America’s Most Blunted”; “Curls”; “Strange Ways”; “Fancy Clown”; “All Caps”; “Great Day”.


(Questions? Comments? Do you prefer to see readers take on lesser known albums or would you rather they stick with the rivers and the lakes that you're used to? Let me know below.)


  1. god, this album was boring as hell. can somebody please remind me what the big deal is about mf doom? i honestly don't see anything likable about his music at all, he can't even stay on beat.

  2. I listened to this last night, I appreciated the production but DOOM will never impress me vocally.

  3. AnonymousJune 13, 2009

    the reason this is such an "overlooked classic" is that it actually sucks, like pretty much everything mf doom does.

  4. AnonymousJune 13, 2009

    This album is not "overlooked", and it is only boring if you don't like hip-hop.

    One genius of this album is that it takes the formula of popular rap music in the 2000s, and basically does the opposite - and yet it doesnt seem like they planned it that way. No stupid hooks, no chorus, no goofy lyrics, dirty beats.

    This album is totally creative. The music is funky in a way that tons of rap albums - even good ones - somehow miss. (By far best production on a DOOM record.)

    Doom's lyrics, what can i say - there's layers of black humor, non-obvious stories, tons of interesting references.

    I never thought of it as a classic, but it reminds me of the classic albums that got me into hip hop. Then again, 5+ years have passed since it's release so i think we can go ahead and call it a classic.

  5. Good thing someone finally appreciates some creative hip hop.

  6. To all the comments above ^^^^ smoke some weed and then listen to this. fucking squares.... keep trying to convince yourselves that eminems new album is good.

  7. one of my favourite albums actually
    btw i believe you spelt the release month wrong at the top :P

    would like to see more madlib on this blog max!

  8. ouch, what's with the hatred haha. doom is not as good as critics make him out to be but he's in no way bad. that, combined with madlib's top notch production make this a pretty good album. not incredible, but pretty good.

  9. AnonymousJune 14, 2009

    good review tho

  10. AnonymousJune 14, 2009

    Yo Crust and Grimes, what makes you think that people who don't like Doom think eminems album is any good at all? Fucking square.

  11. and still the doom fans avoid the fact that he can't stay on beat..

  12. why would you want everything to stay perfectly on beat. every other type of music has off beat shit. the eminem thing was a joke mr anonymous.

  13. AnonymousJune 15, 2009

    Hip-hop has reached the pinnacle of excess and like many of the great empires will crumble under its own pretensions. The memory of it's greats will be recalled through the the Oracle's of our time. DOOM, Madlib and the late great J Dilla have been rejected by the masses for rejecting the style forced upon the populace by the reigning monarchs.

    "see the revolution, let the things bust and thank us,
    when the smoke clears, you can see the sky again,
    there will be the chopped of heads of Leviathan"

    ...some of the best lyrics in hip-hop and I bet most of you don't even know what he is referring to without checking wikipedia.

  14. AnonymousJune 16, 2009

    yes, no one knows what leviathan is. thanks anonymous.

  15. AnonymousJune 16, 2009

    Doom is amazing lyrically but admittedly his voice is so boring that I have trouble staying focused...though madlib's interesting instrumentals help.

    Nonetheless, i loved this album.

  16. it would be fine if he was actually able to rap and stay offbeat, like ultramagnetic mc's for example.

    but doom just has nothing going for him at all

    also, @ that last anonymous:

  17. Whaaaaa? Doom can't flow??? O.k. I mean. . . wow. Do you even like hip-hop? Doom is an animal. From "Gazillion Ear"

    "Once sold a inbred skinhead a n---a joke
    Plus a brand new chrome smokin' with the triggers broke
    I thought I told em firing pins was separate
    He find out later when he tries to go an rep it"

    I can only conclude that Doom haters are just not that bright. That is all.

  18. AnonymousJune 18, 2009

    doom fans ride the dick so hard that lil wayne fans might be feeling some competition

  19. AnonymousJune 18, 2009

    No doubt its a good album but it just gets boring after a few listens

    the only song i find myself listening to again is strange ways because the beat is great

    dooms voice doesnt help either

    the first few times i heard it i thought classic but i probably wont be listening to this again any time soon
    overall i would give it a 4/5

  20. AnonymousJune 21, 2009

    i think your blog is exclusively visited by white folk...the comments are hilarious and your reviews are terrible duke. you just dont get hip hop, go back to rock son

  21. Agreed with anonymous. That review was like the third one I read of this album, and easily took last place. With that being said, I dont understand how you can not like this album. Doom's obscure references do it for me, the production is on-point. If you think Doom is boring, listen to Rick Ross just one time and come back to this CD. He's not my favorite rapper, but he's definitely better than a lot of heads that's out there right now on the radio. And this is definitely one of my favorite albums and no I'm not a Doom faithful. This and the DangerMouse collab are the only CD's I have of his.

  22. "doom fans ride dick so hard that lil wayne fans might feelin some competition"

    lol, exactly! this is not that bad album, but referring it as a classic is hilarious. Good beat here or there, couple of lines there or here, that's fucking all. The only song I love here is Accordion, maybe because of it's my native (Russian) authentic instrument.


  23. wonder what max thinks bout this album.. also mm..food with all thoes skit-tipe tracks..

  24. yo Max.. we are waiting for a Madvillainy review man. i love this blog, no matter that you shited all over some of my favorite tracks haha

  25. this is a classic

    took a few listens to appreciate it

    the beats really steal the show but doom still holds his own

    definitely in my top 10

  26. they couldnt bang his slang yall looked in thesauruses.

  27. People hate on what they don't understand. Jealous Ignorant Fools. Doom is one of the most lyrical cats ever. His monotone voice is used for a reason. He is the villain. You poppy fags aren't supposed to like him. If you are more of traditionalist when it comes to cadence go check out a KMD album. Then tell me his voice is boring. Not to mention he is a sick-ass producer. Mr. Hood released in 1991, way above its time productively.

  28. The ConformistFebruary 05, 2011

    I'm both surprised and not surprised by the comments, this is mostly a (quality) mainstream hip hop review site after all. DOOM as a rapper is more entertaining than everything else, his lyrical prowess is impressive but he never really says anything in his songs (I hate to make the comparison, but this quality is not unlike Lil Wayne's style). But overall he's a pretty good rapper if you don't take him all too seriously.

    As for the album, it's a big help that Madlib gives up some of his best EVER beats for this project (Accordion and Raid come to mind), I believe this to be a great album, but not a classic (there's probably 4 tracks here that miss the mark).

  29. yeah this is a nice album. muthafuckas griping about his voice and shit, imma tell you like danny brown said in that one track (which i see NO REVIEWS of here) about some dude on the internet complaining about his voice:

    "Nigga what do you think this is--phone sex?"

    you dudes deserve the riley freeman award for that shit:


  30. "Living off borrowed time, the clock ticks faster. That'll be the hour they knock the slick blaster."

    "Keep your glory, gold, & glitter. For half, half of his n---as will take him out the picture."

    "Giving y'all nothing but the lick like two broads. Got more lyrics than the church got 'ooooh lords!' And he hold the mic & your attention like two swords. Either that or one with two blades on it. Hey you! Don't touch the mic like there's aids on it."

    "Exercise index, won't need bowflex."

    "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. After you, who is last? It's DOOM. He's the worst known."

    "They pray four times a day, they pray five. Who's ways are strange when it's time to survive? Some'll go on they own free will do die. Others take them with you when they blow sky high."

    "Obviously, they came to portion up his fortune. Sounds to me like that ol' robbery extortion."

    "Sometimes he rhyme quick, sometimes he rhyme slow. Or vice versa. Whip up a slice of nice verse pie. Hit it on the first try. Villain: the worst guy"

    "Looks like it's gonna be a great day today. To get some fresh air like a stray on a straightaway."

    "Lookie here. That's just the way the cookie tear. Prepare to get hurt and mangled like Kurt Angle rookie year."

    "Last wish: I wish I had two more wishes. And I wish they fix the door to the matrix, it's mad glitches. Spit so many verses sometimes my jaw twitches."

    "Couldn't find a pen, had to think of a new trick. This one he wrote in cold blood with a toothpick. On second thought, it's too thick."

    "Hold a cold one like he hold the old gun. Like he hold the microphone who stole the show for fun."

    "Hardly come sloppy on a retarded hard copy. After rocking parties, he departed on a jalopy."

    "Got more soul than a sock with a hole."

    "Oh, my aching hands. From raking in grands, and breaking in mic stands."

    "You heard it on the radio, tape it. Play it in your stereo, your crew'll go apeshit."

    "Curses. He's truly the worsest. With enough rhymes to spread throughout the boundless universes."

    "Let the beat blast. She told him 'bring the mask'. He said 'you bet your sweet ass.'"

    Still think DOOM can't rap?

    - Keeshawn

  31. That got real old.