If Madlib were somehow to commandeer a time machine, kidnap Sly & The Family Stone, Prince Paul, The Firesign Theater, Melvin Van Peebles, Redd Foxx, Negativland, and The Last Poets, lock them in a studio together on Haight Ashbury during the Summer Of Love with Hunter S. Thompson's drug supply, then force them to record an album together, the result might sound a little like The Further Adventures of Lord Quas. Of course, the missing ingredient would be Quasimoto, the helium-voiced "bad character" alter ego that Madlib first unleashed on the 2000 album The Unseen.
That album refracted the irresistible jazz grooves of vintage Native Tongues through an absurdist lens rooted in the sounds, vibes, anarchic rebellion, and preferred controlled substances of the late '60s and early '70s. For Madlib, the '60s never went away, but inevitably some bad vibes crept into the scene; Quasimoto's creator is too adventurous a space cadet not to dip into the brown acid at least a little bit, no matter how stern the warnings. Consequently, Lord Quas qualifies as a less warm and cohesive ride than its predecessor. Where The Unseen sustained a blunted, subterranean groove throughout, its follow-up switches sound and spirit on near every track, though it's held together, as always, by Madlib's lyrical and sonic pet obsessions.
On the slinky, sinister, trip-hoppy "Closer," for example, special guest MF Doom rhymes through vocal distortion that makes it sound like he's rapping from the radio deck of a submarine in a '60s spy movie. The sputtering, stuttering "Bus Ride," meanwhile, functions somewhere halfway between a proper rap song and a crusty old vaudeville routine pitting Madlib (who, as always, raps like he's half-asleep) and Quasimoto against a cantankerous old bum. Through the time-warping magic of sampling, pioneering spirit Melvin Van Peebles stumbles and crisscrosses through the album, alternately a drunk old fool, ghetto prophet, homeless cut-up, and Shakespearean jester serving up hard truths under the guise of absurdity. The 1971 comedy album A Child's Garden Of Grass similarly remains a fountainhead for Quasimoto's curious pop-culture-mad collages. Lord Quas is only slightly less of a comedy album than Grass, and only slightly less obsessed with marijuana as well. And though it might sound like an attempt at the ultimate psychedelic party album, Lord Quas still reveals an artist dedicated to staying at least one step ahead of his audience's fevered expectations.
In blending hip-hop with warped comedy, Madlib follows in the footsteps of Prince Paul, hip-hop's original sonic maverick gone wild. After keeping a relatively low profile these past few years, Paul came back with last year's curiously ignored Handsome Boy Modeling School album White People, then with the recent Dix multimedia project, and now with Itstrumental, a largely instrumental album that doubles as a characteristically deadpan C.S.I. parody. Loosely structured around the doings of the "Mental Victims Unit," the album answers Frank Zappa's eternal question "Does humor belong in music?" with a resounding "yes." As before, Paul remains obsessed with the trite things people say to each other, especially the banalities that characterize so much of romantic behavior, from awkward first flirtation to distant anniversaries. Like Madlib, Paul isolates, then radically re-contextualizes pop-culture ephemera, forcing listeners to understand and respond to it in a bracingly new manner. In Itstrumental's world, bizarre, irrational behavior renders someone an outlaw and a criminal. In hip-hop, however, consistent patterns of bizarre, irrational behavior have helped make Madlib and Prince Paul legends and innovators.