There are musicians who use mystery as a marketing scheme. Then there’s Madlib, the unseen, who adopts semi-anonymity as a way to let you fill in the blanks. The Oxnard, California-raised producer grants perhaps one interview for every 20 albums he releases. For the man born Otis Jackson Jr., all but the act of creation seems superfluous.
Madlib is a loop-digger, excavating the sounds of the past and filtering them through his ozone of Blaxploitation comedy, prog fusion and weltering boom-bap – soul music in the cycle of Samsara. His sativa symphonies include one-man jazz séances, sweltering reggae and Brazilian mixes, attic-creaking instrumental hip-hop, and collaborations with acts like J Dilla and Erykah Badu.
His latest left hook is Yessir Whatever (out this week on Stones Throw), a collection of odds and sods from Quasimoto – the psilocybin-propelled, helium-voiced animated alter ego last heard on 2005’s Further Adventures of Lord Quas. The record offers another reminder that Madlib ranks among the most influential artists of his generation. Odd Future, Flying Lotus, Four Tet and Thom Yorke have all borrowed from the Beat Konducta; even Kanye West once trekked to Highland Park to meet with Madlib in his Masonic temple-turned-studio.
On a break from his caffeine and chronic-fueled recording sessions to perform in San Francisco, the laconic producer spoke with Rolling Stone about his predictably prolific schedule – including forthcoming collaborations with Freddie Gibbs and Mos Def and the status of the biblically awaited sequel to Madvillainy, his 2004 collaboration with MF Doom.
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What’s Quasimoto been up to in the eight years since his last album?
He’s been laying back, laying low [laughs].
Has he just been eating mushrooms all that time?
Are you still planning to release another Quasimoto album of all new material?
Yes, but I still haven’t finished. It takes time. It has to be on a different level. The shrooms were the stuff that made me do Quasimoto in the first place. Hopefully, I get back on that level where I can finish it.
Will the Madvillain sequel ever see the light of day?
I handed all the beats to Doom years ago, but ever since he’s been in Europe, he’s been hard to get a hold of. I feel it probably won’t happen, but you never know. I can’t sit and wait on that. I did my part.
You recently started your own label, Madlib Invazion. Do you see that as mainly a place to release your music, or will you be releasing music from other artists as well?
Both. I’m going to release records from Kan Kick. A couple of singing artists. That’s all I’ve found so far. I want to work with Stones Throw and also do my own thing. Stones Throw already has a lot of artists, so it makes sense to be able to release my other stuff on the side.
How is MadGibbs coming?
It’s done. It sounds good. Gibbs killed his parts. So did Earl Sweatshirt and Danny Brown on the guest verses.
What was it about Freddie Gibbs that made you want to work with him?
It’s hard to really explain in words. I look at him as a new version of 2Pac. He does musically a lot of the stuff that I try to do as a producer. He’s capable of doing everything, but he’s interested in being original and not sounding like all the other stuff on the radio.
Were you a fan of 2Pac?
I’m generally not into the really popular dudes like that, but he was good. I actually liked a lot of his older stuff – his first few albums were the best. That’s usually the case with a lot of artists. I also started working on my own music and kind of lost track of his music.
Often around someone’s third or fourth album, people start saying that they fell off. You’ve put out roughly 50 records now. Was falling off something that ever concerned you?
I’m not really into that thing. People are always saying someone has fallen off. I do music for myself first. I do what I want to hear, not what other people say they want to hear
Do you ever read press about yourself?
Sometimes. I don’t take it to heart when people say I’m great or when I’m bad.
There’s a Woody Allen quote where he says that he doesn’t go to the Oscars because if he believes them when they say he’s great, he has to believe them when they say he’s terrible.
I love Woody Allen. That’s exactly how I feel.
Do you have any favorite Woody Allen films?
I love Sweet and Lowdown, where Sean Penn plays the jazzman.
Have you been making a lot of jazz lately?
Oh, definitely. I can’t stop. I’m going to put out some more of it soon on Stones Throw. I have tons of stuff I’m holding onto, a bunch of different types of music. I made an electronic record in the vein of Cluster. I was programming synthesizers and drum machines and that sort of thing.
Have you been paying attention to Thundercat and Flying Lotus and the way they’re reinventing jazz fusion?
It’s dope. I hope a lot of people pay attention and really listen. There’s a lot of trendy people out there, and I hope they listen to what they’re doing.. We have different types of sounds in that I do all of it myself, but it’s dope that they’re making original jazz.
You have another album out under the Rock Konducta name. How is that different from your other aliases?
That’s just different styles of rock, chopped up and sampled from all around the world with the sound that I usually have. I love [prog-rock fusion acts] like Embryo and Weather Report. Embryo is one of my favorite groups ever. I just finished some music with them – five albums’ worth of material. I’ve got a lot of stuff just waiting to be released.
You only put out a few records last year. What led to the slowdown in the schedule?
I’ve been taking it easy and trying to figure out a different route. I’m trying to make more money with less hands in the pot. I’m almost 40, you know. At one point, I took a year off just to listen to music and really digest it. I listened to everything you could imagine. Lately, I’ve been working as much as I usually have . . . probably more so than I usually do. There will be a lot of music coming out before you know it.
You’re making an album with Mos Def that’s inspired by Zambian rock from the 1970s. How did that come about?
We’ve been working on it for a long time. I’ve got a lot of unreleased tracks with him, and when he comes to L.A., we link up. I showed him all the Zambian stuff from the group Witch that [Now-Again Records’ Eothen “Egon” Alapatt] released on Now-Again. Mos loved it. I have another album, too, full of all Indian Bollywood sampling stuff that I did with Mos. We’ll hopefully put out an album of that later.
Quasimoto was recently presented by the city of Los Angeles with a certificate recognizing his excellence in masonry. Was that for real – and if so, how did that happen?
I don’t know. When that happened, it was the most I’ve laughed in a long time. I think someone got fired though, after it went around on the web. It tripped me out.
You’re kind of like Ornette Coleman. You’re still alive making music, but we only hear a fraction of it and most of it was recorded years ago.
Haha. I wish that I was Ornette Coleman. My whole thing is that I make music regardless. Regardless of everything around me, I’ll always make music.