By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
So it's understandable that Earl Grey and scones aren't rolled out to any iPad hack with a blog. "Interviews are my least favorite thing to do," he says politely, constantly rifling through records, while resisting reductive analysis. This is his first American interview since 2006, because he has better things to do — engulfed in a ceaseless surge of creativity, sleeping only two or three hours a night and fueled by coffee and Lucas Valley OG, the strain of medical marijuana he's currently incinerating. Should the fumes become too tantalizing, he will offer both weed and Swisher Sweets for you to roll your own.
"How are you going to be around me and not smoke? That's like being around George Clinton and not smoking the rock," he jokes, producing the sequoia-colored pot, the kind of cosmic chronic that will have you visualizing Ewoks and light sabers, and composing blunted beat orchestras in your head. Or not. Since technology made it possible to acquire production software FruityLoops and an omnivore's musical library in 24 hours, everyone's been chopping samples. But Madlib has proven that it isn't about collection or studio tools.
"The equipment doesn't matter, it's the vibe you put into it. If music sounds good, music sounds good," he says, so secure in his gifts that there is only objectivity. It's a brilliance that defies intellectualization: There is no formula, and attempting to divine causal relationships is futile. You can connect the dots to his immediate lineage, hip-hop producers Pete Rock, DJ Premier and Marley Marl. Or you can plumb deeper to the protean prolificacy of Frank Zappa, David Axelrod, Miles Davis or any of the canonized jazzmen. But they were all intensely collaborative, while Madlib prefers studio solitude. You can even note the inspiration and influences inherited from his close friend and collaborator, J Dilla. But like the ODB, there is no father to his style.
THE EARLIER ADVENTURES OF LORD QUAS
There was once the young Otis Jackson Jr., who grew up in Oxnard in an absurdly musical household. Otis Sr. is a bandleader and session musician who worked with Tina Turner and Bobby "Blue" Bland, and his mother, Sinesca, is a songwriter and guitarist. His uncle Jon Faddis is a world-renowned trumpet player and academic, mentored by Dizzy Gillespie.
"Everyone in our family makes music, so he's always been doing it," says his younger brother Michael Jackson, better known as the rapper/producer Oh No. "We'd always stay with our uncle in Oakland. We were supposed to share a room, but he'd constantly be in the room with the records, listening to Count Basie."
While he played drums in a band, Jackson Jr. gravitated to hip-hop, teaching himself to DJ and to use a sampler, gleaning production technique from watching his father in the studio. An instinctive autodidact, he was aware that it's easier to defy the rules when you haven't been officially instructed. After he scored a few production and rapping credits with tha Alkaholiks, a 1996 12-inch from his crew Lootpack (with Wildchild and DJ Romes) attracted the attention of Peanut Butter Wolf, then running Stones Throw from San Francisco.
Wolf moved the label to Los Angeles circa 2000, in part to be closer to a perennially hard-to-reach Madlib, and Lootpack's debut LP helped Stones Throw gain stature in a then-flooded underground market. Shortly thereafter, the gnomish Quasimoto emerged from a monthlong mushroom binge, heralding Jackson's mutant creativity and iconoclasm. Bored with hip-hop ("I grow tired of it every three or four years"), he rapidly taught himself the Fender Rhodes, the upright bass and the vibraphone, and formed Yesterdays New Quintet, which has released tribute albums to Stevie Wonder and Weldon Irvine, and splintered into an incalculable amount of side projects — almost all of them exclusively Madlib.
"I'd start to throw a coffee cup away and he'd tell me to stop. When I looked closer, I'd realize that he had put pennies in them for percussion," Peanut Butter Wolf says, reminiscing about the days when Madlib turned their collective home's family room into a makeshift rehearsal space. "He'd make do with what he had. There was an upright bass with just one string and he'd still use it effectively. He was insane on the drums too. I'd wake up to the sound of him playing to jazz records for hours. He seemed to be doing it because he loved it, not because he necessarily wanted to improve."
Out of this chameleonic chaos came sanctioned remix records of the Blue Note and Trojan Records catalogs, a broken beat homage under the moniker DJ Rels, a Brazilian jazz record with Ivan Conti, and Beat Konducta records plundering blaxploitation sound tracks and Bollywood. But behind the cartoonish alter egos and weed-worship lurked a serious scholasticism.
"He's always reading music books and the liner notes of old records," says Karriem Riggins, a jazz drummer and hip-hop producer, and part of Madlib's fusion projects Yesterdays Universe and Supreme Team. "We took a trip through the Midwest to dig for records in people's attics, and the entire time we were passing around his stack of old Down Beat magazines."