There has been much debate about who is the greatest rapper to work with producer extraordinaire Madlib since the release of his latest instant classic collaborative project album Bandana with Freddie Gibbs last month.
The return of the “loop digga” this year puts another W in his career spanning over 25 years. His respected catalog includes 10 collaborative albums with several of Hip Hop’s greatest underground and hardcore MCs from across the map.
Madlib’s trademark sound melds 808 bass-thickened funk and psychedelic dub reggae, old school rap and fusion jazz, 90s style East Coast-oriented boom-bap snares with obscure comedy album excerpts. It’s known to bring the best out of MCs spitting laid-back and b-boy style content to ferocious, hardcore bars. We ranked these 10 project while sleuthing who’s the best lyricist to create the most magic with Stones Throw Records’ legendary resident producer.
10. Trouble Knows Me With Hemlock Ernst (2015)
Sam Herring, the lead vocalist of the Baltimore-based synth-pop band Future Islands, expanded his reach as an occasional rapper named Hemlock Ernst on this six-track EP. The Madlib Invasion label release has three songs and three interludes that have an airy effect with plucky acoustic blues guitar chords, splashy snare kicks, resounding brass and throbbing basslines on songs such as “Trouble,” Celebrity Vision” and “Streetsweeper.” The beats amplify Ernst’s raspy, technically delivered rhymes and Madlib maintains his Beat Konduckta role relaxed behind the boards, but it’s scant of replay value.
9. Perseverance With Percee P (2007)
Bronx stalwart Percee P is known for his late ’80s battle rap style, which was synergized with Madlib on their 19-track album Perseverance. The album gave the feel of late ’80s flattop haircut funk-infused consisting of punchy snare kicks, crash cymbals and chunky bassline samples. The album has Percee P predictably deliver a burial ground of Tetris-stacking rhyme couplets and throaty, monotone vocals in most of the tracks.
There are exceptions in his personal tales in “The Man To Praise” and “Ghetto Rhyme Stories.” The guest features from Jurassic 5’s Chali 2na, Organized Konfusion’s Prince Po, Jedi Mind Tricks’ Vinnie Paz and Guilty Simpson make the project compelling as well as the wormy keyboard-driven production on “2 Brothers From The Gutter” featuring Percee’s fellow Bronx legend Diamond D. However, many of the tracks seem to superficially blend together in their sound, but “Legendary Lyricist” and “Master Craftsman” makes the album a must-have from the 2000s backpack rap era.
8. O.J. Simpson With Guilty Simpson (2010)
One thing that Madlib is known to do is put close to 20 tracks or more on an album that is filled with interludes to not overkill the chance of losing cohesion. The same applies for Detroit spitter and former J. Dilla collaborator Guilty Simpson on their 25-track album O.J. Simpson.
The album interweaves the Dreadnaughtz crew alum’s hardcore, in-your-face gangsta raps over Madlib’s everything-but-the-kitchen sink sampling techniques. It’s a collectible for underground Hip Hop diehards that want to hear Simpson lyrically bring the pain with his morbid sense of humor and salacious metaphors balanced with Madlib’s cosmic thumps. There’s an eclectic range of beats that bring heat to the speakers including “New Heights,” “Hood Sentence,” “Outside” featuring Strong Arm Steady, the zany “Coroner’s Music” and heartfelt eulogy to Dilla in “Cali Hills.”
7. In Search of Stoney Jackson With Strong Arm Steady (2008)
The collective of Krondon, Phil The Agony, former rapper-turned-A$AP Mob manager Chace Infinite and San Diego-based member Mitchy Slick soaked up their best work together on Madlib’s soundscapes on In Search Of Stoney Jackson. They form a proverbial Voltron to pound away in lockstep at The Bad Kid’s meaty slabs of gritty to ethereal beats. The LP has several concepts including healthy eating, romancing street-dwelling queens to neighborhood stories that show they remain just steps away from being menaces to society.
The album ascends from takeoff with cuts such as “Best Of Times,” “Chitlins & Pepsi,” “Needle In The Haystack,” “True Champs” and the certified banger “Ambassadors.” It’s Madlib’s best work at balancing several group members lyrics without having one stand out over another.
6. Champion Sound With J. Dilla (2003)
Before the linking with MF DOOM for their beloved partnership, Madlib and J. Dilla brought their audiences together to jointly produce an anticipated gem titled Champion Sound as the duo Jaylib. The title is inspired by their adoration for reggae’s most common production description as Madlib and Dilla channeled Lee “Scratch” Perry and Dennis Bovell in Hip Hop form, respectively.
Their singles “The Red” and the title track gave indie rap fans something to clamor over for during a time when southern rap ruled the airwaves and the internet’s peep-to-peer sharing culture was one of their few sources of refuge. Madlib brings his laconic vocals and Dilla gets bombastic in their average rhyme styles that rise like yeast from their brick oven-hot studio production equipment and live instrumentation.
5. Bad Neighbor With MED & Blu (2015)
SoCal lyricist Blu, Madlib and his longtime Crate Digger Posse cohort MED and got in their bag of tricks to pull some pulsating tracks on Bad Neighbor. Heavily inspired by the Madvillain collaboration, this album was a placeholder that showed how Madlib and the album’s litany of collaborators including then-newcomer Anderson .Paak, former Odd Future member Hodgy Beats, Madlib’s former Lootpack comrade DJ Romes, Dam-Funk, Phonte, Aloe Blacc and MF DOOM stood pat eschewing the omnipresence of Auto-Tune and trap music to create a feel-good yet abstract project.
The trio stands out among the guest appearances without being drowned out as they bring lyrical and audible opulence on the songs such as “Drive In,” “Mad Neighbor,” “Peroxide,” “Streets” and the MF DOOM-assisted “Knock Knock” and the towering vocals from .Paak on “The Strip.”
4. Liberation With Talib Kweli (2007)
This is Kweli’s most slept-on album as the project showcased his most energetic work since his debut with Mos Def on Black Star in 1998. That was because the album was only available for free downloads during one week on Stones Throw’s Rappcats website, and it was an era when YouTube and social media was underutilized media by recording artists. Madlib brought the soul and Kweli had the charcoal to chef up mesquite food for thought in his lyrics to invigorate listeners for a lean nine-track meal.
Much of Kweli’s work is synonymous with his political activism and spiritual salvation from the injustices of the world. However, songs such as album opener “The Show,” “Engine Running” featuring Consequence, “Over The Counter” and “Happy Home” shows that his artistic growth underscored by Madlib’s vibrant production.
3. Piñata With Freddie Gibbs (2014)
The rollout process for this album was slow yet calculated releasing one single per year from 2011 to 2013 to surreptitiously poke Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s fans about their collaboration’s cometh. True to its album title, Piñata smashed open its listeners’ domes to become one of the best albums of the decade and solidified Madlib as a niche producer who didn’t have to change with the times.
Rather, the times changed because of him in how his production sound can’t be categorized and is too undeniable to resist. Tracks such as “Thuggin,” “Knicks,” “Deeper,” and “Shitville” and its ’70s R&B vibe put their synergy in the conversation as one of the best tandems in Hip Hop.
2. Bandana With Freddie Gibbs (2019)
This second installment of the MadGibbs trilogy is simultaneously flawless and multilayered with dark and bright spots like a rare solar eclipse and explodes like a supernova. Gibbs and Madlib bring their best work to the table to shut down all speculation about the best album of the summer and possibly the year 2019. The 15-track opus is an adventure overlooking their mutual Los Angeles stomping grounds like the album cover suggests, riding a zebra through alluring trails of Madlib’s Hip Hop euphoria and Gibbs’s nightmares on Kane Street.
No track disappoints including the alluring “Crime Pays,” the thunderous “Giannis” featuring Anderson .Paak, “Flat Tummy Tea,” the underworld anthemic “Palmolive” and “Education” featuring a redeemed Yasiin Bey and the brain-punching lyricism of Black Thought. This is a bandana that rap fans want to wrap around their head upon the first listen and beyond.
1. Madvillainy With MF DOOM (2014)
The Madvillainy album cover concept was the antithetical “beast” to Madonna’s “beauty” of her 1983 grey debut album cover, and it remains the undisputed beast among rap collaboration albums. There should be a timeline in Hip Hop that is marked by “BM” and “AM” (Before Madvillainy; After Madvilliany). That’s because the eminence of Madvillainy has reached the highest echelon for pop music purists, Hip Hop cultural interlopers and rap critics alike.
When the masked MC and Madlib linked at Stones Throw’s Los Angeles headquarters and locked themselves into its bomb shelter, the underground rap champions sounded like they joined forces with legendary sci-fi TV character Doctor Who, creators of Hanna-Barbera ’70s cartoons and fusion jazz pioneer Sun Ra to produce an alchemist masterpiece. Brassy horns, eerie acoustic jazz basslines, and b-boy basslines and DOOM’s hilarious old chestnut cliches jumped out into the hearts of music lovers.
The magic on tunes such as the campy “Accordion” and “Raid” featuring MED, the folk-jazz soundscape in “All Caps” in which DOOM calmly hammers down his epithet, the stoner salute banger and the album’s first single “America’s Most Blunted” and the kitschy sing-a-long “Rainbows” make for undeniable modern rap classics.
Plus, range of content from the orchestral “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Great Day Today” places Madvillainy at the Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band of indie rap.