Percee P - Perseverance
Released in 2007, after South Bronx MC Percee P had been rapping for twenty years, Perseverance is actually his first and only album that's been released to date. His gruff, time-tested lyrics show very few flaws, but are anything but flashy, with Madlib's beats taking the driver's seat here. Perseverance still contains some great tracks, especially the pair featuring respective guest verses by Diamond D and Aesop Rock, but overall, it's not Madlib's most successful collaboration.
Talib Kweli - Liberation
Pairing two veterans of different coasts, Liberation is an enjoyable, off-the-cuff-sounding album that came out on Stone's Throw records in 2006. It's a little jarring to hear Kweli's political screeds paired with Madlib's blunted, trippy sound, but then again, hearing Kweli do anything but conscious rap would be a bigger surprise. Liberation could be viewed as a concept album about the African peoples' struggle for freedom in America, and if that's the case, then Madlib's relaxed beats may have not been the best choice for a soundtrack. Talib's better when working with Hi-Tek, but his full-length with Madlib still yielded some successes, most notably the Consequence-assisted "Engine Runnin.'"
Guilty Simpson - OJ Simpson
Prior to releasing OJ Simpson in 2010, Detroit MC Guilty Simpson had worked with J Dilla, and due to Madlib and Dilla's similarities (more on that later), it's no surprise that he sounded great on a collaborative album with Madlib. OJ is a raw, funky batch of instrumentals, with Simpson's baritone flowing calmly overhead, making this come off like a more successful version of Perseverance. Somewhat based on OJ Simpson's legal woes, this album is a must-have for any fans of underground, Detroit hip-hop.
Strong Arm Steady - In Search of Stoney Jackson
From Stoney Jackson's first string loop, it's clear that the album's headed in a great direction. Strong Arm Steady are a little under the radar, a collective from Cali that counts Albino member Kronon as a member, and this album is their best, largely thanks to Madlib. Allmusic's Phil Freeman compares Stoney Jackson to The Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique, with a veritable army of samples driving it into A.D.D. territory, in the best way possible of course. As it seems all too easy for him to make simple-but-catchy instrumentals, Madlib seems to be at his best when he's pushing himself to new heights, like these extraordinarily lush beats on Jackson or the schizophrenic feel of Madvillainy. True artists never stay in their comfort zone for long, and fittingly, Madlib's always looking for a new way to turn the art of hip-hop production on his head.
Jaylib - Champion Sound
Madlib and J Dilla. Possibly the two most respected producers in underground hip-hop -- what would happen if they made an album together and rapped on it? Obviously, it ended up great. Acting as producers for each other, Jaylib made an album that feels fun and fraternal, even though the pair were mostly miles away from each other when making it. Though neither are the most technically gifted lyricists, their alternating vocals keep the project fresh, as neither one could really carry this album as a solo rapper. Instead, the focus is on beats that are criminally funky, as well as fun interplay between Dilla and Madlib, who seem like a dream team on here. If only Dilla had lived long enough to make a follow-up.
Madvillain - Madvillainy
This is one that can't be duplicated. A concept album about supervillains by a guy in a mask whose rhymes are anything but typical, and a producer whose beats are so whacked-out you'd think a mad scientist made them. Madvillainy is, in many people's minds, one of the best collaborations in hip-hop history, and most of that is due to how damn unique it is. DOOM took his internal rhyme schemes, non-sequiturs and character-driven narratives to new heights here, and Madlib got more esoteric than ever to match. Skits constructed from choice dialogue samples segue into short, hyperactive tracks, most of which lack choruses, and it all bleeds together under the villainous theme. Since its release ten years ago, Madvillainy is oft-imitated, never topped, and responsible for rap nerds everywhere crying themselves to sleep because there's still no sequel.
With Freddie Gibbs' Piñata dropping today, Madlib has added to his roster of collaborative albums with MCs. Here are six previous ones, ranked from worst to best.
With his dusty, warped, sample-heavy sound almost instantly recognizable at this point, Madlib has carved out quite a niche for himself in the underground hip-hop world. First emerging in the '90s with his group Lootpack, he's gone on to rap under the name Quasimoto, play jazz as Yesterday's New Quintet, release his Medicine Show series of concept-driven beat tapes, and of course, collaborate with a wide array of rappers.
Freddie Gibbs' Piñata (out today) boasts production entirely from Madlib, making the next in a long line of his full-length collaborations with MCs. These type of album-length pairings are uncommon in hip-hop, even more so today, with label executives usually trying to grab a varied roster of producers to reach a wider audience. This approach can end up with amazing results (Tha Carter III had 19 separate producers), but is also prone to producing bloated releases that lack cohesion (Mastermind, anyone?). With one artist behind the boards at all times, you get an album that's less of a solo project by a rapper and more of a collaboration, and that's exactly what Madlib's come to master.
Find out which of these collaborative albums are the best by clicking ahead to the list. To see where Piñata stacks up against the others, check back tomorrow for our review.