Saturday, 18 April 2009

Madlib - The Beat Konducta Vols. 5 & 6: Dil Cosby Suite & Dil Withers Suite (2009)

since you've been away so long...

It's practically unanimous opinion among hip-hop fans that J Dilla was not only a great producer and beatmaker but a very influential one too, shaping the face of contemporary hip-hop with a sound dubbed by many as "neo-soul". Since his death, numerous tributes have been scattered across his peers' and mentees' records. Arguably, though, none have been quite as respectful, understanding, entertaining and strangely touching as this one. Certainly if you believe that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, at any rate. Madlib's latest two records in his Beat Konducta series - records where he takes the time to focus on and explore various styles of music and convert them into his own distinctive brand of instrumental hip-hop, with varying but often brilliant results - are dedicated to his old friend, peer and collaborator James Yancey.

madlib: doing what he does best

It's no secret that through tape-swapping and, sometimes, direct collaboration - as seen on the impressive Jaylib album Champion Sound - there was a two-way pattern of influence between Dilla and Madlib that showed itself as their sounds continued to evolve, one record always informed by another. And, to an extent, particularly Madlib's Beat Konducta records have always mirrored Dilla's last masterwork, Donuts, with their short soundbite-like tracks and their particular way of structuring samples, basslines and drumbeats together. This latest release, though, is altogether more faithful to Yancey's sound, the clearly meditated-upon result of a close study and deep understanding of Dilla's production style. The Dil Cosby Suite is particularly stunning: it feels like Madlib's own stab at Donuts, but, with Otis Jackson Jr.'s own particular style also evident, it comes across, to me at least, as at least as soulful, sincere and musically fantastic as the record it borrows from. Sometimes there's the boom-clap ruckus of Dilla's rowdier stuff, but the prevailing mood is a rather gorgeous, mournful kind of calm, particularly on songs like 'Floating Soul (Peace)' and 'Sacrifice (Beat-A-Holic Thoughts)'. Every sample is picked meticulously here, always contributing perfectly to the album's flow, the vocal samples often giving across a touching message - such as the introductory track's clear homage to Dilla, 'Infinity Sound's provocative "If the world should end tomorrow, have you lived enough today? Has each hour been fully tasted..." or the closing 'Anthenagin (?)'s burning cry of "Emptiness is all around". Nevertheless this still has Madlib's trademark sense of humour, evident in some of the spoken samples and also his musical sample choices, like his bizarre manipulation of a Buzzcocks song in 'The Get Over (Move)'. This combination of brilliant beats, touching tributes and subtle humour makes this record not only a rather moving one when properly listened to, but also a wonderfully entertaining listen from start to finish.

dil cosby & dil withers suites, respectively

The Dil Withers suite is somewhat more aggressive in approach, taking influence from Dilla's funkier side (but also, quite clearly, Madlib's own love for the green stuff) and doesn't flow quite as well as its counterpart, as it seems like the majority of the best beats were slipped onto the first record for maximum impact, but it's still a great instrumental hip-hop record and has highlights of its own, like the cavernous 'Smoked Out (Green Blaze Subliminal Sounds)'. One could forgive him for the fact that he starts to run out of steam on this disc if you consider that 41 tracks is an awful lot to make when focusing on a very specific style, and it is a pretty exhausting exploration of Dilla's work as it is. If you're only going to listen to one record here, make it the Dil Cosby suite, which is one of the best instrumental hip-hop releases since lord knows when. But even as a combined piece of work, the Dil Cosby and Dil Withers suites are some of Madlib's best work so far, a brilliant tribute from one stellar noughties beatmaker to another, and should be heard by anyone with a passing interest in instrumental hip-hop.

Madlib - The Beat Konducta Vol. 5: Dil Cosby Suite
Madlib - The Beat Konducta Vol. 6: Dil Withers Suite

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