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Madlib - Beat Konducta Vol. 5-6: A Tribute to...

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Artist: Madlib

Album: Beat Konducta Vol. 5-6: A Tribute to...

Label: Stones Throw

Review date: Feb. 4, 2009


Madlib - "Do You Know? (Transition)" (Beat Konducta Vol. 5-6: A Tribute to...)


Volumes 5-6 of the Beat Konducta series are Madlib’s eulogy for J Dilla, his collaborator, competitor, and, in this instance, model. Dilla, whose death has been lamented thoroughly in the years since his passing, is an easy and even predictable inspiration point for Madlib. The two were birds of a feather. Voracious crate-diggers and workmanlike in output, Madlib and Dilla were pillars of the late-’90s and early-’00s underground, releasing record after record of consistent and, at their apogees, brilliant music that leaned away but never departed from hip hop’s classic boom-bap sound. As under- and above-ground acts forged new and divergent paths in those years, Dilla and Madlib’s traditional production scheme anchored the genre from its wayward entropy. With them behind the boards, there was always some assurance that hip hop’s center would hold.

Nowhere was Madlib and Dillas’ appreciation for hip hop’s form more present than in their reverence for the beat. Few producers have been so captured by the staccato elegance of a funk break. The jabbing interplay between the bass drum’s thunder and the snare’s smack, the swaddling of lower and higher registers in the wooly comfort of vinyl’s crackle – for Madlib and Dilla, sampled drumbeats were not materials with which to assemble their collages but theories of a science, propositions proven in song after song to be true. Dilla’s Donuts and Madlib’s Beat Konducta installments are the purest examples of this devotion to the breaks. In those works, Dilla and Madlib forsook rapping, hip hop’s imprimatur, for brief instrumental cuts. These albums staked a claim that, in the right hands, a drumbeat coupled with other samples could constitute a whole equally compelling as rap-driven fare. And, as Donuts demonstrated rhapsodically, a beat could amount to something more lyrical than hip hop’s verse.

The Beat Konducta series has never met Donuts’ greatness, however. Whereas Donuts was dynamic, emotionally complex, and Dilla’s personal opus, the Beat Konducta series have been one-dimensional, and in their lengthiness as monolithic as cornfields fencing a Midwest highway. It is with a touch of dismay to find that Volumes 5-6 are no different. For Madlib (and J. Rocc on scratch duty) has done with Dilla what he did with Indian music in the preceding Beat Konducta chapter: lift the most identifiable moments and staple them to his familiar drum patterns. Sometimes the result is a spooky imitation of Dilla. “Do You Know (Transition),” which stitches a horn loop and falsetto sample into a soulful lace, and “The String (Heavy Jones),” a pitch-perfect approximation of Dilla’s more forceful moments, are two instances where the original and copy are indistinguishable. But by the 42nd and final song’s completion, Volumes 5-6 reveal an underdeveloped record that uses Dilla not as muse but as grist and unwittingly shows the obstacles in championing beats as ends themselves.

Part of the problem with Volumes 5-6 is that Madlib, as always, has privileged quantity over quality. As with the previous Beat Konducta volumes, he has submitted an album that is equally prodigious and sloppy, in which the notable moments are lost in the overall interminableness. There’s an unfortunate irony that Madlib willingly accepts brevity in each individual song but gluttonously insists that so many be featured here. Listening to Volumes 5-6 is not unlike the experience of a collegiate power-hour – its small measurements are a poor mask for the binge it ends up becoming.

But most troubling is that the album is largely expressionless and bridges little connection with the listener. Volumes 5-6 are marked by emptiness, an absence of feeling, humor or power that one could immediately identify in Dilla’s songs. This may end up being the most telling difference between Dilla and Madlib. Whereas Dilla humanized hip hop’s mechanical pastiche of samples, Madlib is content to hide behind his productions. In an occasion to honor indelibly a friend and mighty influence, it’s an opportunity squandered.

By Ben Yaster

Other Reviews of Madlib

Beat Konducta Vol. 1-2: Movie Scenes

Beat Konducta Vol. 3-4: In India

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