Esteemed curator of sprawling hip hop Otis Jackson Jr., known professionally as Madlib, adds yet another slice of pioneering creativity to his canon. 'The Professionals' crystallises Madlib's collaborations with such forces as Adub, Elzhi and Chino XL. Unmissable work from the Californian creative.
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Madlib Invazion kindly sent us over the double disc set of this record, but I’m going to review the vocal side rather than the instrumental piece as Oh No never gets the props he deserves compared to his more successful brother Madlib. Despite following similar career paths for the past three decades or so, ‘The Professionals’ is the debut collaboration from the famed beatmakers and MCs. They’ve performed together on select tracks and made beats on the same albums (notably Mos Def’s ace ‘The Ecstatic’), but they’ve never stuck their heads together for a fully-fledged joint studio effort. The idea is simple; Madlib on beats and his brother Oh No on bars.
Now neither Oh No or Madlib are famed for their rapping abilities, and though both are known for being extremely talented producers, the quality control tends to vary throughout their hundred or so releases. Saying that, there’s plenty to love here on ‘The Professionals’; crisp production, eclectic sampling demonstrative of their crate-digging powers, tasteful boom bap throwbacks, and plenty of ear-catching verses. You know it’s Madlib behind the turntables and samplers for sure, you can picture him rolling up a Cali cigarette and sipping a brandy whilst he translates his loops and flips to record. In particular, ‘Payday’ impresses with its rhythmic jazzy shuffle, ‘Superhumans’ sports an immediately gripping beat evocative of El-P’s work with Company Flow, and ‘I Jus Wanna’ has a super-smooth tasty West Coast soul feel going on. ‘Tired Atlas’ must have been a cut from the Freddie Gibbs collaboration ‘Bandana’ as my god this is one lush gangsta rap beat.
‘The Professionals’ is a great listen, though there isn't here that pops too much to leave an immediate impression. We’ve spun it in the office a couple of times to a good reception, especially when some of the first moments of sunlight creeped through the windows of Norman towers. In short, don’t expect a ‘Madvillainy’ or ‘Pinata’. This is more akin to ‘Oh No’s Oxperiment’ or the legions of beat tapes Madlib made for Stones Throw, records which are perfect for a laid-back listen or to stick on as a musical backdrop to other activities. ‘The Professionals’ has honed my appetite to hear these two as a production duo for other MCs or making a collaborative beat tape together.
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