Madvillainy: A Recollection
by Armando Ortiz
I remember when I first heard the initial track. My friends and I were walking into Pennylane Records, a store in Alhambra, which is no longer there, and as we were looking through the cd stacks, some hypnotizing beats, with some gnarly lyrics began flowing out of the speakers. I went directly to the salesperson behind the counter, and asked who it was that was rapping, and he directed my attention to the record, Madvillainy. It was the first time seeing a rapper with a metal mask, which wasn’t the typical image I had of hiphop artists. This experience opened to the door to a diversity within a genre that I believed only had gangster and mainstream rap/hip hop.
No questions were asked about who it was or where he or they hailed from; the music resonated immediately, making me buy the cd. I wanted the album and wanted to take it home and listen to the entire thing. The comic book like lyrics, but clever word play triggered curiosity. In all honesty, this happened ten years ago, so to really gauge that moment is difficult. The cd came with the music video, ALL CAPPS, a comic book like video where the main character, who also wears a metal mask, breaks through the scenes onto other scenes.
Up to that point in my life only a handful of hiphop records had been purchased, and most of them were bootleg. I was in grad school at the time, so I had some loose cash, and enough to splurge on a cd. This happened sometime between March when the album came out and September of 2004, when I moved to East Asia. I do not clearly remember the date of when I bought the cd, but I took it with me to Beijing. I was on my way to study Chinese at Peking University. Preparing to live in China for a year, so a humble collection of music was packed which would be enough tangible things to take from the US to somehow manage to live in a foreign country, so Madvillainy, El Primer Instinto by Jaguares, Morrison Hotel and other albums by The Doors, and some heavy metal albums by Anthrax, and Megadeth’s Countdown to Extinction were put inside the suitcase. I couldn’t leave the US without Jimi Hendrix’s Life at the Fillmore East. Mp3 players already existed, but that technology had yet to make its way into my life, but that is another story.
The whole time living in Beijing, the music blasted from the speakers, inside my little apartment while sitting behind the desk, spending hours trying to decipher Chinese characters, and writing characters over and over and over and over again till I had memorized them. The symbols became internalized in my being in the same manner that the beats made me reach that level of energy of focus and creativity. The numerous tracks on the album helped me navigate through the labyrinth of Mandarin, helping to stay focused, giving a musical adventure that I never tired to re-experience.
At the end of the day I was just a consumer, and bought what I liked and never did read on the magnitude of Madvillainy till years later and hours of listening. There was no clue that it was a critically acclaimed production. The purchase had prompted me to find out more about the artists behind the album, but that happened two years later. I discovered that Madlib had produced the beats, and had his own Jazz band, Yesterdays New Quintet, where he played different instruments. MF Doom was the guy rapping and had a wide variety of other albums, such Mm.. Food. They joined forces, and became Madvillain and produced one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the 21st century.
Not only did Madlib have stacks of beats on his CV, and to top it off back in 2006 when I was teaching English in Korea, I heard his beats on an aspirin commercial that would reappear every 45-60 minutes on the television. MF Doom had other alter egos which manifested themselves in King Geedorah, Vikto Vaughn. Since then, Doom always appeared mysterious to me, so whenever I came across anything that was written about him I’d devour the words only to leave me with more questions about the artist. Madvillainy is and remains one of my favorite albums, and was key to exposing me to many other artists, and also became a door from where two prolific artist have served as templates of what inspiration, commitment, creativity and hard work produce. In addition they functioned as doors that led to a variety of musical knowledge.