When producer Madlib and rapper MF DOOM decided to craft an album together under the name Madvillain in 2004, it only seemed natural to title it Madvillainy. Little did they know the album would go on to become a critically acclaimed project within the underground rap world and earn a place in the minds of myself and many others as one of the greatest rap albums of all time.
At a run time of just over 46 minutes for 22 songs, the tracks seem unusually short at first, but it quickly becomes clear that this is one of the album’s greatest strengths. There is no chorus within any of the songs, simply verses rapped back-to-back with arguably the most complex and well-crafted rhyme scheme of any rap seen today.
The almost-theatrical album opens with a short track titled “The Illest Villains,” which fuses several samples with a simple beat to introduce the character of Madvillain for the remainder of the album. Madvillain is a personification of Madlib and MF DOOM and serves as an antagonist in the album, often described as the most evil or cruel villain.
Madlib samples from media as old as 1942’s The Ghost of Frankenstein to instrumentals from the 60s and 70s throughout Madvillainy, which adds to the old school supervillain feeling. In fact, the entire album is produced in such a way that it feels like the auditory adaptation of a superhero comic book. Madlib expertly blends these samples with contemporary beats and MF DOOM’s excellent flow.
Although the most popular track is “All Caps”— and rightfully so — MF DOOM demonstrates some of his most skillful lines in “Figaro.” “Everything that glitters ain’t fishscale/Lemme think, don’t let her faint get Ishmael/A shot of Jack got her back it’s not an act stack.” This is just one of many incredible lines featuring countless forms of rhyming and allegories to both pop culture and biblical stories. Each line can be interpreted in myriad ways.
In the album’s final track “Rhinestone Cowboy,” DOOM raps with expert technical skill: “Got more soul than a sock with a hole/Set the stage with a goal/To have the game locked in a cage getting shocked with a pole/Overthrow ‘em like throwing Rover a biscuit/A lot of b*****s think he’s overly chauvinistic.” Each line is something fresh and new, twisting the tongue of anyone other than MF DOOM. He does not rely on choruses because his skill has far surpassed the need for them; his creativity in the construction of each bar leaves listeners begging for more.
While Madvillainy is far from one of the most popular rap albums of all time, it certainly is one of the most masterfully-crafted works of the last several decades in the genre. Most rap and hip-hop fans already know the perfection of To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy by Kanye West, so consider giving something a little more underground a listen. Madvillainy is a great way to start.