Madlib's 'Sound Ancestors' Is a Well-Assorted Bag of Aural Treats

BY Daryl KeatingPublished Feb 2, 2021

Depending on what musical circles you identify with, Madlib might sound familiar as a background character. "Oh, isn't he behind the music of Madvillain?" "Didn't he work with Kanye?" "Was there an album he did with J Dilla?"

The answer to all of those, of course, is yes, but to any fan of instrumental hip-hop, he's much much more than someone in shadows. You'd be hard pressed to find a more legendary beatmaker, and there are simply none around who are as eclectic as Madlib. So, for some who might see Sound Ancestors as Freddie Gibbs' producer making a solo venture, this is really just another statement from an artist who stands just as tall on his own.

It's very difficult to talk about Madlib without name-drops damaging the page like an airstrike. He has just collaborated with too many heavy-hitters to count — and don't even get us started on his aliases, unless you have a free 20 minutes. There is one more name to let fall, before we proceed though, and it's a relevant one.

When rumours of a new Madlib album first started circulating in December of last year, they came from what seemed like a strange source. British producer Four Tet (a.k.a. Kieran Hebden) tweeted, "I've made an album with Madlib," and some confusion ensued. Four Tet and Madlib sound nothing alike, so the initial perplexity was warranted, but on closer inspection, they are both fanatic crate diggers, and, most importantly, they've been friends for nearly 20 years. It was actually Hebden who convinced Madlib to make Sound Ancestors, which is billed as his first truly solo album. The thought, it seems, had never really occurred to Madlib. 

So, Hebden got to work editing, arranging, and mastering what was to become Sound Ancestors, culled from a huge body of Madlib's work. Despite this mammoth task, this is probably a source of disgruntlement for some who heard the initial news, because though we definitely have Hebden to thank for this album, it is by no means a Four Tet record. Anyone hoping to hear a nice blend of rarefied hip hop beats and soaring, technicolour club tracks, will sadly be disappointed.

Not that anyone should be disappointed with Sound Ancestors; it's a well-assorted bag of aural treats. On here you'll find a cross-section of every musical avenue that Madlib has traversed throughout his career. Fans of Blunted In The Bomb Shelter will be glad to hear the reggae-leaning "Theme De Crabtree," while anyone who was more into his jazz explorations like Shades of Blue can happily find a home on tracks like "One for Quartabê / Right Now" and "Sound Ancestors."

It's almost, but not quite, diversity to a fault. You do need to have a very broad musical taste to enjoy every facet of this record. It morphs through every shape that instrumental hip-hop can take, but where Madlib really shines is in his use of soul music. "Road of the Lonely Ones," which features a sample from Philly group the Ethics, will send you floating upon first listen, and the finely chopped vocal cuts of "Two for 2 – For Dilla" are just alabaster smooth.

Sound Ancestors is a mixed bag if ever there was one. It's funky, it's psychedelic, it's jazzy, dirty, clean, and mean. It's Madlib.
(Madlib Invazion)

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