Not even Madlib can transform Dudley Perkins into a proper soul-man, but on the unexpectedly moving "T. Biggums"—the standout track from Oh No's Exodus Into Unheard Rhythms—Perkins finds greatness, if only for a song, by slipping into the itchy skin of Dave Chappelle's crackhead character Tyrone Biggums. While a sampled psychedelic chorus sings of some faraway rapture, a frighteningly committed Perkins documents Biggums' existential angst, with singer Georgia Anne Muldrow lending funny, poignant support as Biggums' beyond-longsuffering mother. Not since Roxy Music eulogized Humphrey Bogart has a pop song so indelibly captured the essence of a pop-culture phenomenon.
A typically eccentric project for a label built on Madlib's shape-shifting experimentation, Exodus finds Madlib's little bro Oh No transforming the vast archive of Hair composer Galt McDermott into kaleidoscopic beats for such underground heavyweights as Vast Aire, Murs, AG, and Posdnuos. Nothing here approaches the genius of "T. Biggums," but the sprawling roster of guest rappers and singers all bring their A game—especially the Stones Throw vets—and a spirit of brainy adventurousness and casual ambition reigns.
Like kindred spirits Madlib and MF Doom, Muldrow, Stones Throw's first female artist, has little use for conventional song structure. Her tantalizingly brief sonic fragments sometimes begin in the middle and end shortly after establishing intoxicating grooves. Her thrilling full-length debut Olesi: Fragments Of An Earth unfolds like a dream, with each new song serving as a sonic short film informed by the subconscious. The bluesy, chaotic opening track, "New Orleans," captures the sound of a city and a song falling moodily apart. "Melanin" offers a rapturous, life-affirming Afrocentric doo-wop celebration of blackness, and the rest of the album fearlessly navigates the wide-open spaces between those sonic and emotional extremes. Like so much of Stones Throw's output, Exodus and Olesi excel at transforming the old and the new into something vital and fresh, yet strangely, ingratiatingly familiar.