Music Quickspins

QUICKSPINS: Madlib – Sound Ancestors

Madlib’s latest project is a hazy sonic adventure that borrows from different times and cultures and morphs it into something that is unmistakably Madlib.

Madlib’s versatility knows no bounds. The legendary producer’s ability to craft an entire album’s worth of instrumentals for rappers is just as apparent on his own solo material. Kieran Hebden of Four Tet appears all over Madlib’s latest album Soul Ancestors, a project that sees Madlib experimenting with evocative and brooding sounds.

No two songs on Sound Ancestors sound alike, with Madlib and Hebden using many different instruments, particularly strings, to bring together a compilation of tracks that pay respects to various influences while also morphing them into something so peculiar, it unmistakably has Madlib’s fingerprints all over them. 

“Road Of The Lonely Ones” is where the album begins to find its stride. The eloquent guitar and bass leading the track complement the soulful background vocals that sound like exactly what the title implies. It’s hollow but striking in a way that the few lyrics in the track sound like a cry for help as the singer wallows in his misery.

The following track “Loose Goose” opens with a sci-fi electronic instrumental before introducing a classic Snoop Dogg sample where he only says “Fo shizzle, dizzle.” The track bounces back and forth from a fiery saxophone loop and distorted vocals from an unknown man. The mystique in the track adds to Madlib’s secrecy that has surrounded his career for years.

Sound Ancestors isn’t Madlib’s first foray into producing cryptic music, although his latest project is a glitched time capsule that borrows from the past and incorporates whatever he took in a dystopian-like album. It sounds fresh in the same way that it sounds old, with Madlib combining the two aspects to create new soundscapes altogether.

Madlib flies through time on tracks like “Two for 2 – For Dilla,” an homage to the late icon J Dilla. The beat is reminiscent of the Detroit producer’s works, but it’s unmistakably a Madlib beat. Coming off the heels of the death of longtime collaborator and underground legend MF DOOM, Sound Ancestors also sounds like it could’ve been a prototype for another collaborative project. Though none of the beats are asking to be rapped on, songs like “Latino Negro” and “Hopprock” could have easily added some vocals on them to add another element.

Yet Madlib is not interested in working with anyone else besides Hebden across the project’s 16 tracks. Madlib’s insistence on mixing the new with the old on Sound Ancestors led to him making a refreshing and engaging beat tape in an era where they don’t come all that often. It’s an album that doesn’t necessarily require an attentive ear, but the closer you listen, the more intricacies you’ll find.


Rating: 8/10

Trial Track: “Loose Goose”

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