Madlib (Otis Jackson Jr.) may be the most industrious studio whiz working today. (Who said smoking blunts induces laziness? While you read this, Madlib’s just finished another track.) Despite his prolifigacy, Madlib maintains lofty quality control. Peruse his work with the jazz-funk revival unit Yesterdays New Quintet, or with hip-hop projects Madvillain, Quasimoto and Lootpack, and you’ll notice a dedication to production that adheres to standards minted by Rudy Van Gelder and DJ Premier. Enhancing his jazz credentials, Madlib rejigged select Blue Note gems for 21st-century ears with Shades of Blue. This is one formidable knob-twiddler/ multi-instrumentalist.
Whereas YNQ’s 2001 debut album Angles Without Edges sounded like an unearthed CTI treasure, The Funky Side of Life is a joyous updating of jazz-inflected funk and soul in its many permutations. Madlib’s choice of covers attests to his keen aesthetics and predilection for fantastic, obscure songs (e.g., Marcos Valle’s “Wanda Vidal,” David Axelrod’s “A Divine Image,” Lesiman’s “Play Car”).
Equally as impressive are Mad’s originals. The low-slung, swaggering funk of “Dice Game” sounds like Booker T. & the MGs, but with blissful flutes and a flugelhorn solo. “Theme for Ivory Black”‘s intense, insistent funk filigreed with eccentric analog-synth squiggles begs for inclusion in a blaxploitation-flick remake. Homage rarely sounds better than this.