Styles: Stones Throw
Others: Madlib, Madvillain, J Dilla
See, I have this recurring dream. It’s summer in the city. The air hangs heavy and lingers over the baking asphalt, as children run through fire hydrant rain. There’s a fruit stand on the corner, and as I get closer, the Fruit Man1 opens a door hidden behind the watermelons and leads me down into the radio-static din of a speakeasy2. Or perhaps discotheque is more appropriate, though the difference eludes me. Anyway, the air is thick with jazz3, and through the green haze4 I see Wayne Shorter5 and Herbie Hancock6 doing bong hits with a man in a metal mask7. There’s a guy in the corner nodding his head to the music. He grins8 and then disappears.
When the dream resumes, it’s dark outside and I’m sitting in the heatless fluorescence of a donut shop9 10. The guy on the barstool next to me is wearing one of those furry, oversized mascot suits11. He offers me a cigarette. We smoke in silence. Outside, past the empty parking lot12, past the glittering cityscape13, suspended above it all in giant Hollywood-esque white lettering, words peer out of the darkness: Welcome To Stones Throw. I ask my friend if he’s from around here.
“Yessir,” he replies. “Whatever.”
When it was announced earlier this year that Quasimoto — producer-turned-rapper alter ego of the ever-prolific Madlib — was planning to release his first album since 2005’s The Further Adventures of Lord Quas, there was plenty of cause for excitement. While his two previous albums as Quasimoto have since become underground classics of sorts, they are perhaps best known as mere bookends to the best hip-hop album of the past decade. And so, as Madvillainy 2 — or would it be Madvilliany 3 at this point? — fades further and further into the realm of the improbable, isn’t it time for Lord Quas to finally get the attention he deserves?
And yet, when it was revealed that the aforementioned new album would instead be a compilation of rare and previously unreleased tracks accumulated over the 12 years since Quasimoto’s debut, The Unseen, these expectations were somewhat tempered. Hopes that this album would mark the return — and perhaps evolution — of one of the defining producers of a generation quickly turned to speculation of shameless regurgitation. After all, when you’re the kind of musician who can put out 13 albums in two years, how hard can it be to assemble a 12-track compilation of existing material?
Now that the album is in our hands and on our hard drives, the idea of releasing a Quasimoto compilation in 2013 seems altogether appropriate. See, as a label, Stones Throw has never been much about evolution, for evolution implies some sort of temporal linearity. Indeed, if there is such thing as a Stones Throw Project that unites the creative output of the label over the past decade plus, it has been the creation of a self-contained sonic universe detached from time, where it is simultaneously 1975 and 2005, and it is always summer in the city, and the produce stand on the corner is actually an underground disco/jazz club, and even the finality of death is somewhat suspect.
In this light, could Stones Throw have asked for a better mascot than Lord Quas? To return briefly to the ever-seminal Madvillainy, it is easy to forget that DOOM wasn’t the only member of the duo accustomed to wearing a mask. After all, while much has been made of the album’s already iconic cover art by resident Stones Throw artist Jeff Jank, let’s not forget the LP’s oft-overlooked back cover: there’s Madlib, almost entirely occluded by a rather different metal mask. Digital manipulation has always established a barrier between the recorded product and the man behind the machine, and Quasimoto — whose helium-infused flow is produced by Madlib speaking slowly into a recorder and then artificially speeding the verses up — is electronic artifice of the highest caliber.
As for Yessir Whatever, Lord Quas uses the compilation format to orchestrate a second, far more impressive sleight of hand. Just read the liner notes. “Recorded in Lost Gates CA, some time between the late 1990s and the present and the future.” That isn’t just a playful evasion, a veiled attempt to perpetuate the Quasimoto illusion. Rather, it reveals a profound sense of dislocation that permeates the entire recording. While there are moments throughout that seem to provide real world markers — the retro samples of “Seasons Change” come to mind, as does the breezy Avalanches-esque closer “LAX to JFK” — there is an uncanny otherness that runs throughout the half-hour runtime and prevents the album from nicely lining up with the 3D world.
The result is a rap album that fundamentally challenges the notion of what a compilation is. After all, if these tracks were really recorded a decade apart, we should at least expect some sort of temporal discontinuity between tracks. But like any quintessential Stones Throw record — be it J Dilla’s perpetually looping Donuts , Madlib’s sublime remix of the legendary Blue Note catalog on Shades of Blue, or the anachronistic Prohibition-funk of (yes) Madvillainy — Yessir Whatever so thoroughly subsumes its influences that the music seems to exist somewhere just outside of time. The result is a shockingly cohesive and thoroughly complex record that more than compensates for its relatively brief runtime. So just put it on repeat, go outside, and enjoy the endless summer.
And if you see my friend in the mascot suit, tell him I’ll be back soon14.
1. J Dilla - “The Diff’rence” (Donuts)
2. Madvillain - “The Illest Villain” (Madvillainy)
3. See “Yesterdays New Quintet”
4. Madvillain - “America’s Most Blunted” (Madvillainy)
5. Madlib - “Footprints” (Shades of Blue)
6. Madlib - “Peace / Dolphin Dance” (Shades of Blue)
7. Madlib - “Steppin’ Into Tomorrow (interlude)” (Shades of Blue)
8. See “Behind the Smile”
9. See “Old Donuts”
10. See “Last Donut of the Night (Video)”
11. See “Low Class Conspiracy (Video)”
12. See “The Unseen”
13. See “Rapcats”
14. See Yessir Whatever
01. Broad Factor
02. Seanons Change
03. The Front
06. Planned Attack
07. Brothers Can’t See Me
08. Catchin’ The Vibe
09 Am I Confused?
11. Green Power
12. LAX to JFK