Monday, December 5, 2011

Quasimoto- The Unseen

To say that The Unseen is the weirdest hip hop album I've ever heard feels like I'm simultaneously damning it with faint praise as well as making a statement about hip hop in general. To be fair, The Unseen is weird, but that's not why it's great (though it is one of the reasons). And while it is the weirdest hip hop record I've heard, that's not really saying much, since I'm a dilettante when it comes to this stuff.

Still, I know my weird music, and I know some weird hip hop via MF DOOM. His Operation: Doomsday preceded The Unseen by a year, and in many ways they feel like long lost cousins. That Madlib would work with DOOM on 2004's Madvillain project speaks to this, sure, but it's also the eccentric style, beats, and samples that both used which make this connection stronger. Well, I mean, the two albums do sample Scooby Doo, so the connection is already strong...though I didn't mean it that literally. It's more like how Madlib's stoned flow and his I-just-inhaled-some-helium voice as alter ego Quasimoto are a perfect foil to DOOM's sleepy and congested style. But I digress.

While Doomsday may have a higher percentage of classic hooks and beats, The Unseen is better overall. It's safe to say, you've never quite heard an album, hip hop or otherwise, that sounds like this. 'Return Of The Loop Digga' is like a miniature epic, stopping in a record store for a skit halfway through before the beat is switched up and the song continues. Sure, Madlib may also showcase some killer beats in a more traditional way, like the addictive organ loop of 'Discipline 99 Pt. 0', but The Unseen is defined by tracks like 'Return Of The Loop Digga' and 'Come On Feet', the latter of which singlehandedly could justify hip hop to an ignorant friend who thinks rap is all posturing, bragging, sex, and violence (watch the video for even more oddness). No, Quasimoto is not as outright weird as, say, Captain Beefheart, but like that legend's most out-there moments, no one else sounds like this, either.

And make no mistake: you will have to go through a slight learning curve to truly dig this record as you would with something by Beefheart. Again, the comparison is as direct as their eccentric learn-to-love-it vocals, but I refer more to how you don't know quite what to make of this music right away. It's true that Madlib never was and never will be a gifted MC, so there isn't an immediate draw there, but his style is a brilliant match for the eccentric, spaced out production. As with Trout Mask Replica, The Unseen will take some patience to unlock. Especially because, like most hip hop albums of its era, The Unseen is 10 to 15 minutes too long.

Hold on, though. Unlike most hip hop albums of its era, The Unseen has made this sprawl into part of the appeal. Where skits become annoying tracks you skip over by the third listen on, say, Ghostface Killah's Supreme Clientele, Madlib as Quasimoto incorporates them into his songs. Similarly, where there's two or three tracks you could drop from MF DOOM's Operation: Doomsday to make it a better record, there is no obvious filler or weak material here.

The Unseen was supposedly recorded over the course of a weeklong magic mushroom binge, and while that may help explain some of the weirdness going on here, it can't account for the imagination and talent on display. From this 2000 release, Madlib would go on to become one of the most prolific and influential producers/musicians of his generation, and many of his projects would gain greater recognition and praise. Yet The Unseen is a perfect distillation of what makes him so compelling as well as being a perfect case for how much can still be done with hip hop.
5 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5

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