It's official: Madvillain is on the streets. I took thirty minutes out of my day yesterday to run to the record store and pick it up, along with another MF Doom project, Vaudeville Villain.

This is not the hip-pop of OutKast, nor is it the decadent, nihilistic chest-thumping of the Eminems and Master Ps of hip-hop.

I remain convinced that the producer best suited to Doom's lyrics is Doom himself, but Madlib lays a smoky, jazzy, lo-fi sound on each cut that brings a new dimension to the words. It's clear on first listen that the MC and the producer are both essential to this project, but I also found the first listen monotonous and tiring - even though this is a very fresh record, it seemed one-dimensional yesterday. Today, though, it's a different record.

There's a cut built off an accordion sample, and another one constructed off a cop-show soundtrack. This record slinks through shadows and alleys, hiding in oily mud puddles beneath iron fire escapes. This record is crumbling mortar between antique red bricks, a Saturday night special tucked into the trumpet player's boot, the dark space behind the curtain at the back of the stage. Samples of screams, grunts, sneaky guitars and wailing horns peek out behind very low-key beats and Doom's trademark growl. But if you're listening for an immediate payoff, you won't find it here. You need to spend some time with this album to get some enjoyment out of it: it's a dense sound collage. It's like Orson Welles in The Third Man, slinking through the sewers and even though you think he's dead, he's still plotting in the dark.

The best description is on the reverse of the liner notes: "Written in cold blood with a tooth pick."

Vaudeville Villain, on the other hand, is ready-made for radio play. Doom's lyrics are the same psychedelic pop culture threads, the same goofy threats against any MC that wants to tumble, but the production is the hip-hop equivalent of power-metal. It's bombastic, catchy, and totally sweet. It's a much more accessible record than the Madlib-Doom collaboration, and at first I thought it was a better one. But the variety of producers (King Honey, RJD2, Max Bill, Heat Sensor) make it more a collection of singles than a proper album (not that there's anything wrong with this).

And in the end, that might be the genius of Madvillainy, that Madlib and MF Doom have cut the shit (read: skits) from the hip-hop album, tightened it up, and finally offered up something to rival rock albums, a sonic statement from hip-hop that is more akin to the dark, complex layered and crafted sound of Dark Side of the Moon than the mindless candy pop of Elton John or the overwriting of The Wall.

It's the sound that hip-hop has arrived.


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