Rapper-producers Madlib and MF Doom don't just spit rhymes and make beats: They stitch together vivid, beautifully realized pop-art universes out of obscure records, comic books, commercials, science-fiction serials, comedy albums, blaxploitation sound clips, monster movies, and classic soul, funk, and jazz. Hip-hop's favorite supervillain and Oxnard's immortal Beat Conductor then populate their crazy-quilt worlds with one-man retro jazz bands, three-headed space monsters, helium-voiced alter egos, and time-traveling rappers.
Kindred spirits working on opposite coasts, Madlib and MF Doom bring their parallel universes together on Madvillainy, a collaborative album that sounds fantastic in theory and plays out even better in practice. A serial collaborator, Madlib created full-length albums with crooning rapper Dudley Perkins and rapping producer Jay Dee last year alone. But where his partners didn't always help those projects, MF Doom's buttery flow and brilliant lyrics propel Madlib's beats to new places.
Doom's train of thought moves so quickly and takes so many weird twists and turns that it's hard to say definitively what most of his songs are about, but there are notable exceptions here. Doom resurrects his Viktor Vaughn persona for "Fancy Clown," a melancholy rebuke to an unfaithful girlfriend, during which he remains vulnerable and tender even while owning up to infidelities of his own. On the remarkable "Strange Ways," Doom segues from ghetto social criticism to some of the most unexpected anti-war sentiments this side of N*E*R*D's "Drill Sergeant," over a masterful pop-psychedelic sample. Quasimoto returns for "America's Most Blunted," a tribute to Madlib and Doom's shared muse that finds Doom, Madlib, and Lord Quas making like hip-hop Marx Brothers over day-glo production and a flurry of expertly chosen rap sound bites.
The tracks where Doom relinquishes the mic aren't bad, especially Lord Quas and Madlib's Sun Ra tribute "Shadows Of Tomorrow," but showcases for Stacy Epps ("Eye") and Wildchild ("Hardcore Hustle") pale in comparison to the Doom/Madlib collaborations. Like both artists' most transcendent work, Madvillainy retains its mystery and wonder after dozens of listens. Cramming 22 tracks into 46 dense minutes, the disc beautifully illustrates why hip-hop is a genre for which marijuana can be reasonably considered a performance-enhancing drug.