Why mess with perfection? That was the underlying question behind the tragically Will.I.Am-heavy recent Thriller re-issue. The same question dogs Madvillainy 2: The Madlib Remix, an album that finds Madlib scribbling all over one of his signature masterpieces—a 2004 collaboration with fellow eccentric MF Doom—via new beats, new song titles, a remix of Dangerdoom's "Space Ho's," and interludes rooted in everything from Redd Foxx jokes to recording-studio chatter. The tweaked tracks on Madvillainy 2 seldom improve on the originals, though "Running Around With Another" compellingly re-imagines Madvillainy's most emotional song ("Fancy Clown") as a hyper-soul wail of heartbreak and romantic despair, and the entire project is informed by a free-associative, non-linear spaciness. It's always a treat rummaging through Madlib's overstuffed musical psyche, but where Madvillain was the perfect entryway to Madlib and MF Doom's warped sonic kingdoms, Madvillainy 2 gives off a distinct "Fans only" vibe.
Like Madvillainy 2, Stones Throw's Arabian Prince compilation Innovative Life has an alternate-universe quality. It's a fascinating, sometimes revelatory look at what '80s West Coast hip-hop might have sounded like if it took its cues from new wave, electro-funk, and Kraftwerk instead of George Clinton and Too $hort. Arabian Prince is best known as an original member of NWA, and listening to his chilly, forceful compositions and robotic raps, it's easy to hear both why the seminal outfit wanted him in the group, and why his stint with NWA was short-lived. (For one thing, the group already had a pretty accomplished in-house producer named Dr. Dre.) The 12 dance-floor-friendly tracks include solo work, an NWA song ("Panic Zone"), a track recorded under the comic-book pseudonym Professor X, and a song he produced for J.B. Beat ("Freak City"). The latter takes the retro-futuristic robot vibe even further, with a vocoderized vocal from J.B. Beat paying homage to the titular dance-floor utopia. The icily infectious Innovative Life, with its monster electro grooves and abundant personality, illustrates indelibly that Arabian Prince was and is so much more than NWA's cursed answer to Pete Best.