Lootpack affiliate MED (previously known as Medaphoar) serves a specific and crucial role on Madlib's albums. In a crew filled with loopy knuckleballers and zany character actors, he's a fireballer and a leading man. So whenever Madlib needs a splash of straightforward masculine bravado, he calls on his old compatriot. The relationship serves both artists well. Madlib gets to snag a vital position player, and MED has appeared on a slew of classic albums (Madvillainy, Soundpieces: Da Antidote!, Shades Of Blue, The Unseen, The Further Adventures Of Lord Quas) before even turning out his debut. The high-water mark of the venerable Madlib/MED collaboration so far has been "Please Set Me At Ease," a seductive love song off the Blue Note remix album Shades Of Blue, which afforded MED the rare honor of delivering the only original rap on an album otherwise devoted to channeling the house spirits of the legendary jazz label.
Madlib and Stones Throw have done a brilliant job of raising expectations for MED's debut, Push Comes To Shove, which may be part of the reason it comes as something of a disappointment in spite of its transcendent moments. "Never Saw It Coming," for example, finds MED spitting a twisty, urgent, noirish street narrative over production highlighted by savvy sampling of Bilal's anguished repetitions of the title. "Listen 2 This," meanwhile, showcases the sometimes sublime chemistry between Madlib and MED with a melancholy anthem aching with empathy for a diverse assortment of hustlers, gangstas, working-class stiffs, stoners, and convicts.
In MED's Stones Throw guest spots, his conventional style comes as a refreshing change of pace, but over the course of an entire album, it gets a little dull. Push Comes To Shove is the rare Madlib-produced joint that's not quite weird enough—it doesn't feature enough of the multiple layers of iconoclastic nuttiness Madlib contributes to pretty much everything he does. MED simply doesn't boast much of a sense of humor, so the album's comedy comes almost exclusively from its main producer, who pulls out a few left-field samples and signature sound bites from his beloved pot-themed comedy albums. Such prototypical Madlib flourishes give the album some much-needed eccentricity, but too many of its tracks feel as anonymous as "Get Back," a misguided, Just Blaze-produced attempt at a radio song. People buy Stones Throw albums to get away from soulless club tracks from trendy producers, not to hear marginally more indie versions of them. With Push Comes To Shove, Medaphoar makes the big, scary leap from revered pinch-spitter to solo attraction, but he loses some of his luster in the process.