Hip hop legend Madlib talks Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, and cassette tape bliss

At 42 years old, Otis “Madlib” Jackson Jr has been slicing sounds from different eras and congealing them over hard hitting drums for years, long before Windows 95 was the mark of modern technology. During an hour-long chat at New York’s swanky Grolier Club for the Red Bull Music Academy Festival last weekend, Madlib told tales about using little pins instead of record player needles to hear the music without speakers. He proclaimed he doesn’t have “Twitter fingers.” He’s a child of the analog age.

Related: Stream and discover new music anytime with Amazon Prime

Hip hop journalist and event moderator Jeff “Chairman” Mao at one point asked the artist if he had embraced modern digital technology in favor of recording his beats on actual cassette. The Gazelle shades rustled as his eyebrows tightened. “Nah, I just do what I do,” he replied. “Let me do what I do and you do your thing, man. I’ll be the last dude doing what I do.”

From keeping it old school, making beats too crazy for Kanye West, and using his iPad as a babysitter for his three children, Madlib talked about the delicate balance of staying true to yourself as the world around you changes.

Unmastered Unreleased

Utter Madlib’s name at a hip hop concert and you’ll inevitably be met with one question: “When is he putting out that album with MF Doom?” A highly celebrated and eccentric lyricist, MF Doom is lauded for his penchant for making the unorthodox groovy, just like Madlib. In 2004, the pair melted minds with the collaborative album Madvillainy and anticipation for the follow-up created a fervor that is matched by few hip hop releases in recent memory.

Madlib Red Bull Festival
Maria Jose Govea/Red Bull Content Pool
Maria Jose Govea/Red Bull Content Pool

After revealing he has 20 unreleased songs with his Madvillainy partner — before clarifying “that don’t mean they’re coming out” — Madlib explained how protecting the group’s sound from modernity is a key reason for the album’s delay. “People are expecting too much and they’re complaining about … certain things the Doom records don’t have anyway. The mastering and mixing. We like our stuff dirty.”

After a few seconds of stumbling over his words as if thumbing through a crate of records, he picks an analysis that sounds right. “I think people are on a different level now. That was good for then, but now it’s something different,” he says, before adding, “I like listening to the album. I love the new album.”

Too Weird for Kanye West

In 2010, Kanye West went to the masonic temple Madlib converted into a recording studio in Highland Park to retrieve five beats for his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album. Six years later, Kanye relayed via tweet that he and Kendrick Lamar were gifted with six more CDs of Madlib beats during a studio session. However, none of Madlib’s raw production appeared on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, or the Watch The Throne collaboration album Kanye did with Jay Z the following year, after he tweeted the two were preparing to record on one of Madlib’s beats.

“I’m always doing shit in headphones. They’re like ‘buy some speakers so we can hear what you doing.’”

West and Lamar did end up recording No More Parties in L.A. for West’s The Life of Pablo album over one of the beats from the six CDs. But Madlib still believes his style of production doesn’t fit Yeezus. In fact, while he prefers to work in analog, he says the beat for No More Parties in L.A. was actually made on an iPad.

“He didn’t like them beats,” Madlib said in the midst of a chuckle. “I gave him a bunch of crazy shit.” He may have been a bit modest there, however, as he later let the crowd in on a little inside information from that studio session with Lamar and West. “I heard they were arguing over the CDs in the studio.” 

iPad Dad

Genius is the start, but it’s the sleepless hours that produce the brilliance that dazzles people. During the conversation, Madlib stated he normally sleeps a mere two or three hours a day at random times, devoting most of his time to working on music. He told the crowd his passionate relationship with music began in the ’70s with his musician father Otis Jackson, Sr. “My pops had me at the studio since I was born,” Madlib began. “That’s why I got into music. He would let me go up on the controls and mess with stuff.”

Madlib Red Bull Festival
Maria Jose Govea/Red Bull Content Pool
Maria Jose Govea/Red Bull Content Pool

Now with three kids of his own, Madlib is finding it hard to blend his roles as both dad and producer — like his father. “I’m always doing shit in headphones. They’re like ‘buy some speakers so we can hear what you doing.’” So, how does a man who blocks the world out for hours keep away familial distractions? Technology. “Put them headphones on and give them the iPad and do what I do. The iPad is the greatest thing as far as kids.” He makes sure to explain, “they know I do music, so they don’t mess with me too much.”

The music industry as a whole understands what Madlib’s three children do: he makes music, so don’t mess with the genius at work. His latest conversation demonstrated how modern influences rarely penetrate his self-contained world. Still, like so many prolific musicians, much of the genius never escapes his private studio.

That being said, in a time when Kendrick Lamar can turn a collection of unmastered, unreleased songs into a Billboard #1 album, it appears there’s still a place for the raw sounds of a mad genius still in love with the world of analog.


From Jay Rock to Saba, these are the 50 best albums of 2018

We've spent the year listening to new albums, digging deep, and culling our master list into 50 favorites. From blockbuster releases to hidden gems, these are the best albums of 2018.
Smart Home

Rocco wants to rock out. Parrot learns to use owner’s Amazon Alexa

Rocco, an African gray parrot, fell in love with his owner's Alexa unit and ordered himself treats and other goodies, but mostly uses the smart assistant to rock out to his favorite music.

Spotify is the best streaming service, but its competitors aren’t far behind

It can be hard to decide which music streaming service is for you, so we've picked out the individual strengths of the most popular services, aiming to make your decision a little easier.

Jam out in style with the 25 best playlists on Spotify

Music is the world's most potent drug, and the best playlists on Spotify will make you catch feelings. We've scoured the service for its top collections, and brought them together in one place -- for you.
Home Theater

Spotify Wrapped reveals rad facts about your musical tastes and habits

The website may be a bit tough to find at first, but Spotify Wrapped tells you awesome facts about your year in listening. From how many minutes you spent jamming out to your top artists, and beyond, there's a lot to dig into.
Social Media

What do yodeling and Kylie Jenner have in common? YouTube’s top 2018 videos

In a true nod to the variety found on YouTube, the platform's top 10 list of videos from 2018 range from celebrities to sports, from perfectly tossing a picture frame on the wall to a kid yodeling in aisle 12 at Walmart.

Apple Music may sign up more exclusive artists with purchase of Platoon

Apple purchased London-based Platoon, which is a startup that helps independent musicians get discovered by major labels. The acquisition may help Apple Music sign up more exclusive artists.

From Paul McCartney to Mariah Carey, this is the best holiday music

Whether you're a fan of classic jazz standards or modern R&B masterpieces, there's something for everyone on our playlist of the best holiday music. Pour some eggnog and curl up by the fire, this one is sure to get you in the holiday…
Emerging Tech

Feast your eyes on the wildest, most elaborate Rube Goldberg machines ever built

Want to see something totally mesmerizing? Check out several of the best Rube Goldberg machines from across the internet, including one that serves cake and other that do ... nothing particularly useful.

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…

Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ becomes the most-streamed 20th-century song

Queen's iconic Bohemian Rhapsody has become the most-streamed 20th-century song. Knocking Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit off the top spot, the British band's 1975 classic has now been streamed 1.6 billion times globally.

Tune in to the best internet radio stations for your listening pleasure

Even in the streaming era, radio stations get some of the best exclusives and curate some of the finest handpicked playlists around. Here are the best internet radio stations, for your listening pleasure.
Home Theater

Radiohead, The Cure, and more to join Rock Hall of Fame. Listen to their hits

Radiohead, The Cure, Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, and more have been selected to join the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019. Here are our favorite songs from the four artists' hit-filled careers.

Here's our head-to-head comparison of Pandora and Spotify

Which music streaming platform is best for you? We pit Spotify versus Pandora, two mighty streaming services with on-demand music and massive catalogs, comparing every facet of the two services to help you decide which is best.