The video stream for this lecture can be watched here.
Armed with several identities, the self-acclaimed workoholical MC/DJ/producer Otis Jackson Jr. creates the finest crate-dug beats, self-produced vintage jazz and astrotravelling rap. His father was an accomplished r & b session musician who played with the likes of David Axelrod and H.B. Barnum. His uncle is Jon Faddis, a legendary trumpeter who played with Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, and Bob James. Following in the footsteps of his family, Madlib is in the studio for up to ten hours a day, creating albums every three days with a distinct unique sound. In this session he reveals the secrets of his choice equipment, a $300 sampler. He says, "Anyone could do it. You just gotta use your brain." We say, "That's some brain."
RBMA: We got, all the way from Los Angeles, California, Otis Jackson, aka Madlib, Quasimoto, Yesterdays New Quintet (laughs).
Madlib: (hiding behind the turntables) What’s up, y’all?
RBMA: Give it up.
Madlib: (stands up) Just playing. Peace!
RBMA: Where were you born, Mr Madlib?
RBMA: Like Sun Ra?
Madlib: That’s my pops, basically.
RBMA: Sun Ra?
Madlib: Sun RZA.
RBMA: Your musical father?
Madlib: Sun RZA.
RBMA: First music you fell in love with?
Madlib: Jazz. I was listening to jazz when I was six and seven. My uncle is Jon Faddis, he played with Dizzy Gillespie and Roy Ayers and all them cats. And I basically got up on his record collection, stole all his joints, that’s how I started making beats.
RBMA: What year?
Madlib: I started making beats in like ’87, got serious in ’96.
RBMA: ’96, but you were making beats for other people before that, like Alkaholiks and all that.
Madlib: I got serious with the business in ’96 with my stuff.
RBMA: But the first productions you did were actually released in the early ’90s, Tha Alkaholiks, right?
Madlib: Hmm, yeah. Let’s forget that one. ’Liks. Let’s get on my thang, you know?
RBMA: (laughs) Lootpack, independent hip hop group from Oxnard, Santa Barbara, California.
Madlib: Oxnard area.
RBMA: Tell me about the Lootpack, Otis.
Madlib: Lootpack is like the first group that I grew up with. I started breakdancing in the ’80s. You know, we went to school, fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, we’ve been hanging ever since and been recording since the late ’80s.
RBMA: Put out your first record in ’95 or ’96?
RBMA: Psyche Move EP. Your father was a musician too. He knew a little bit about the independent game, right?
Madlib: Yeah my pops had a few records out, independent records arranged by H.B. Barnum, David Axelrod’s homeboy. He’s still doing his thing, you know how it goes.
RBMA: Very notable soul vocalist from California, his father, Otis Jackson Sr.. So Peanut Butter Wolf, the guy who owns Stones Throw, heard the Psyche Move, signed you to a deal and you put out an album, right?
Madlib: Yeah, I got mad albums.
RBMA: But the first one was Lootpack Soundpieces, same people you just told us about.
Madlib: Yeah, made that album in a day.
RBMA: Was it like that back then?
Madlib: It was worse back then, you know what I’m saying?
RBMA: And they were all on cassette tapes.
Madlib: Just like I’m doing it at the hotel, making a beat tape on cassette.
RBMA: His spending his time in Brazil making music saving them onto cassette and then destroying all the original files.
Madlib: (crazy gesture) Yippie!
RBMA: So then, tell us about Quasimoto.
Madlib: Quasimoto came after Lootpack. Basically, I was in the studio on some mushrooms by myself and I didn’t have no MCs around, and when I rap I don’t like my voice anyways, so I wanted to try something different. Just locked myself in the studio, just bugged out, just trying to speed my voice up and people liked that more than my first album.
RBMA: But you made that all on an 8-track cassette.
Madlib: Oh, for sure. It don’t matter what you record on, or what you use. Basically, it’s what you do.
RBMA: So an entire album, the whole Quasimoto The Unseen, do we have a CD here? The TASCAM Portastudio and it was in Spin magazine top 20 of the year in 2000, was it? How much did it cost to record that?
Madlib: Well, just for the ’shrooms. That’s it.
RBMA: (laughs) Fifty bucks.
Madlib: Had to buy the ’shrroms.
(starts music: Quasimoto – Come On Feet)
RBMA: This is a song from it.
Madlib: (suddenly stops music) Y’all know.
RBMA: So that’s you, both voices?
RBMA: Two characters? Production, scratching, all you?
Madlib: Yeah, luckily. Thanks to Jah.
RBMA: Were you a DJ before you were an MC?
Madlib: I’m a DJ, I’m not no MC.
RBMA: What happened after Quasimoto? What did you decide to do next?
Madlib: I bought some instruments ’cause I listen to all them records with Fender Rhodes and vibraphones and upright bass and stuff, so I wanted to see if I can get all that stuff and try to learn it and do my own thing, you know? Try to do what they did but in my own way.
RBMA: So, first you had, what, a Fender Rhodes?
Madlib: Yeah, I bought a Fender Rhodes and two weeks later I had my first album.
RBMA: How did you make it? What did you do? What was the process involved in making this jazz music?
Madlib: Studying the records that I like and just sit there and do it. Make yourself do it.
RBMA: What year jazz music? Like ’50s jazz, hard bop?
Madlib: I like ’60s and ’70s jazz, but with a future twist to it.
RBMA: So what records did you try to play over? What were you first covers?
RBMA: (to audience) How many of you know the name Weldon Irvine? Famous composer, arranger, jazz pianist, passed away just a little while ago. We played him some of the early Yesterdays New Quintet stuff including a cover of one of Weldon’s songs, a famous song called "Deja Vu". Do you have any examples of any of that stuff?
Madlib: Yup. Actually, this is a song for him when he passed. I did a whole album for that cat.
(music: Monk Hughes & The Outer Realm – Time)
RBMA: What’s that one called?
RBMA: Those were all samples, the drums and all that stuff?
Madlib: Actually, there’s a bass loop under that and I played upright to it, everything else is live.
RBMA: So you played the drums...
Madlib: One mic.
RBMA: ...and upright bass and all those keyboards on it. How did you record this stuff, the Yesterdays New Quintet, that’s what you call the group, right?
Madlib: First, I get the drums, you got to get the drums first. After that, it’s whatever. I just sit down, you know me, fifteen minutes and I’m done.
RBMA: What machine do you use? I mean, you have to record it somehow.
Madlib: Just an old 8-track board.
RBMA: Digital or are you still doing cassettes?
RBMA: Cassettes for some stuff.
Madlib: (music continues) I ain’t abandoning the analogue.
RBMA: When you do sample stuff, what kind of sampler do you use nowadays?
Madlib: My homie (shows Boss SP-303 Dr. Sample).
RBMA: What exactly is that?
Madlib: You could do any type of music on this.
RBMA: What? You made all of that on this?
Madlib: (nods) All my hip hop stuff.
RBMA: Is that a Boss Dr. Sample or is that a 303?
Madlib: 303, like whatever, cheap, cheap.
RBMA: (shows to participants) Dr. Sample SP-303.
Madlib: Anybody could do a beat, you just got to use your brain.
RBMA: Do you use the SP-1200?
Madlib: SP, MP, but mainly that (points to Dr. Sample).
RBMA: You haven’t given up hip hop completely though? You’re still producing hip hop tracks, doing remixes?
Madlib: Basically, when I go to the next style I do, I still have the stuff that I did back then. It’s always going to be the same, but I progress too.
RBMA: So you’re working on some new hip hop stuff now?
Madlib: I’m working on new hip hop, new jazz, reggae, soul, soundtracks, trying to do some scores.
RBMA: Jay Dee and M.F. Doom, two people you’re working with right now. (to audience) Y’all know the name Jay Dee? Slum Village and all that? M.F. Doom, used to be known as Zev Love X of KMD? Got anything new that we can hear? Maybe something with M.F.Doom?
Madlib: Kind of raw.
RBMA: You recorded all this with the 303 and a smaller digital board?
(music starts: Madvillian – unknown / Madlib starts dancing crazy)
RBMA: M.F. Doom. Anything else on that you want to play?
Madlib: Some live shit.
(music: Madlib - unknown)
RBMA: This is you playing all the instruments?
Madlib: Just a bass loop.
RBMA: Very nice. (to audience) You like what you’re hearing?
Madlib: Thank you.
RBMA: And you recorded all that with one microphone for basically, what? A dollar, a dollar fifty maybe, what ever it costs to buy discs?
Madlib: For sure.
RBMA: And that’s going to be released on a major label, as major as we can get it. Probably going to sell 30 / 40.000 copies and the recording costs are zero. So anybody out there who thinks you have to go to a studio, I mean, you’re doing all that at the house with minimal equipment.
Madlib: I do it at home, where I’m peaceful, relaxed and cool.
RBMA: How about some of this Jay Dee stuff? Do you have anything there you’re rapping on or anything?
(music: Jaylib – Raw Addict / applause)
Madlib: Thank you, wow. Five claps, count the claps.
(music: Jaylib – Survival Test)
One more, OK?
(music: Jaylib – unknown / applause)
RBMA: Very nice.
Madlib: Thank you.
RBMA: Now, you got to explain something ’cause weren’t those vocals and all those cuts recorded on an 8-track cassette?
Madlib: It’s not the final recording, it’s the rough draft, but basically...
RBMA: Sounded pretty good to me. Anything else you’ve been wroking on?
Madlib: Ah, got some weird shit. Some Azymuth (pronounces it Brazilian-style: ’A-Zee-Moochie).
(music: Yesterdays New Quintet – unknown Azymuth tribute track)
RBMA: You said that’s Azymuth, ’A-Zee-Moochie’?
Madlib: How knows Azymuth, ’A-Zee-Moochie’? Man, y’all better get hip. I ain’t from here, but that’s dope music from here.
RBMA: So how many pseudonyms do you have ’cause you’re doing all these projects under different names?
Madlib: I don’t know, there’s going to be more. I don’t know, something like 20 or more.
RBMA: Are you nervous that people might not catch on that it’s you doing all this stuff?
Madlib: It’s good, that’s what I want. I want them to think that it’s somebody else.
RBMA: Questions? I guess, we should open it up right now.
Participant: You were saying your studio costs nothing, but it’s necessary to have a good studio as well, I mean, in the end, isn’t it?
RBMA: Not for us. We’ve been doing just fine. We don’t really pay much, I mean, we might pay $50 for someone maastering it with ProTools. Pretty much everything is recorded at the house. The M.F. Doom project is going to be recorded at the house, the Jay Dee stuff is recorded at the house. Everything you heard with the exception of the Lootpack album has been recorded for free.
Madlib: Bedroom style.
RBMA: Cheap boards and we’re trying our best to make it presentable. I mean, I heard my man Primo[, the Brazilian DJ] playing with a mic outside and it sounded pretty good to me.
Participant: But having a proper mix on a quite big table [mixing desk], don’t you think it would bring more to the music?
Madlib: Probably, but I’m not even on that tip. I’m just trying to do it and then go on to the next. That’s just something I did that day and that’s it. I don’t have time to run into a big studio. Just do it real quick and put it on that, that’s cool.
Participant: What are your influences? What are you listening to?
RBMA: How about hip hop guys?
Madlib: Yeah, I could do that too.
Participant: You rock, man.
Madlib: Just try to do every type of music, so you can connect with everybody.
Participant: Madlib, besides the Dr. Sample, are you using drummachines or anything like that?
Madlib: There’s a drummachine.
Participant: But besides that one, no?
Madlib: I use a SP-1200 and an MPC sometimes.
Participant: Anything acoustic?
Madlib: I have an upright bass, electric basses, vibraphone, Fender Rhodes, ARP’s, drums, guitars, whatever. Percussion, bought some percussion today.
Participant: What kind of effects do you use?
Mainly the wah wah.
Participant: How would you define ’keeping it real’?
Madlib: I don’t define it, I just do what I do. That word is so played out, so many definitions. Just keep it real myself, I guess, I don’t know.
Participant: When you are recording the drums first do you use any kind of metronome or stuff like that?
Madlib: In my head, yeah. That’s why some of that stuff is off-beat but that’s how I like my stuff.
Participant: Do you use sequencers or just the pads on the sampler?
Madlib: Sometimes I do it live, sometimes I sequence, but I usually like ’human time’: record the drums, go to the next and record the bass. I don’t use computers. I’m a caveman (laughter).
Participant: I find it incredible that you picked up almost all of the instruments that you play in no time, has that anything to do with your father?
Madlib: Probably, yeah. But, I didn’t know any of that before I stepped to it. Like anybody else, I just had to do what I had to do, doing it 20 hours a day. Discipline.
Participant: What’s your singing voice like?
Madlib: You want me to do it? No, I’m playing, it’s not good. It’s not good.
Participant: Mad, you said that you don’t use computers, how do you take your music from your studio to the mastering [studio]?
RBMA: I do all that. Or Peanut Butter Wolf.
Participant: And what’s impossible to do in the Dr. Sample, like technically? Like, long samples...
Madlib: Oh, it has like 10 / 15 minutes on it, a gang of effects. It’s just small, so people are like ’urgh’.
Participant: You can link it with the SP?
Participant: Have you done a live act as Quasimoto or Yesterdays New Quintet?
Madlib: For the Yesterdays I haven’t put a band together yet, I would need to get a whole band to do that who could play how I want them to sound and that hasn’t happened yet, but it’s in the works. As far as Quasimoto, I tried to do that and the sound man was using effects, but the effects don’t always work properly. When I recorded the album I didn’t use effects, I just sped up the tape. I went out there and did my first Quasimoto show and my voice was regular in a crazy suit, like a space suit. You know how Quas looks, that’s the suit I came on and it was just crazy. The most embarrassing time of my life (laughter).