There are more ways to fall in love with Madlib’s myriad music projects than not. For many it’ll be his charismatic beats for the late, great MF Doom, his collaborations with fellow sampling pioneer J Dilla or more recently, his sleek instrumentals for rapper Freddie Gibbs. Then there’s his remixes of the Blue Note Records archive, his one-man-jazz-band Yesterdays New Quintet, and Lord Quas – his satirical, pitched-up alter ego MC. Madlib’s ability to speak a universal language through so many modes is hip-hop in technique but something much broader in essence. On Sound Ancestors, his creations are arranged by producer, DJ and longtime friend Four Tet. It’s through the idiosyncrasies of this collaboration (such as an abnormally clean mix with uncharacteristically prominent drums) that Sound Ancestors achieves its mission to deliver a no-guest vocalists, start-to-finish-listen Madlib album experience.
Reggae toasts, lo-fi riffs, jazz interludes and snippets of vocal skits pepper the record. Breathtaking lead cut Road of the Lonely Ones combines two tracks from Philly soul progenitors the Ethics to marvellous effect, and follow-up single Hopprock’s strings-and-answering-machine interplay is comparable to Dean Blunt’s The Redeemer. Tribute track Two for 2 – for Dilla is split in half: one part chopped up to conjure a cosmic surrealness while the other’s all soul and groove, with a time-stretched transition lying as a liminal space in between. The album cools off on the density and eccentricity typically expected of Madlib in favour of a more poignant, sincere vision. Madlib channels a deep, intertwining lineage of Black music through Sound Ancestors like folklore oration, storytelling with the sorcery of a beatmaker who knows how to make an instrumental really sing.
• Sound Ancestors is released 29 January