Producer Deep Focus: Madlib

Story posted November 3, 2022 in CommRadio, Arts & Entertainment by Caelan Chevrier

Otis Jackson Jr., better known by his stage name, Madlib, was born in 1973 in Oxnard, California. He is one of the most innovative music producers of the 21st century. Working with artists such as MF DOOM, Freddie Gibbs, J Dilla and more, he has developed a unique sound that is instantly recognizable for hip-hop fans. 

Madlib began his career in the early 1990s DJing, producing and as an MC. He released several underground records via small record labels and collaborated with other artists in the area. He got his big break in 2004 collaborating with British rapper MF DOOM forming the duo Madvillain, on the record “Madvillainy.”

Although “Madvillainy” did not find commercial success considering how niche the jazz rap scene was, it received incredible praise from critics. Rolling Stone listed the album as #18 on their 200 Greatest Hip-Hop Albums of All Time list.

Madlib would continue to get beat placements on A-list hip-hop albums and develop a cult following. He has released around a dozen solo records and two-dozen collaboration albums over the course of his long career. Unfortunately, he has arguably not received the recognition he deserved with zero Grammy nominations or wins.

He is still cranking out records to this day with his latest release, “Sound Ancestors,” dropping in 2021. Madlib has been recognized by many as someone who has broken down the boundaries of music, while to others, he remains unknown. Perhaps this is for a reason, he does go under the alias of Quasimoto and many other names after all.

Five Essential Madlib Produced Songs:

“All Caps” – MF DOOM, Madlib, Madvillain (2004)
The first single from “Madvillainy” might be the best song Madlib has ever produced. It is his most streamed song in his entire discography along with MF DOOM. The track features a colorful music video based off of comic books, and is arguably the most successful track to come from the Stones Throw label.

“One Beer” – MF DOOM (2004)
The fourth track from  “MM..FOOD” best proves how good Madlib is at sampling. Using Cortex’s “Huit Octobre 1971” turns the track into one of the most iconic rap songs of the early 2000s. As avant-garde as the beat may be, MF DOOM spits bars and food and drinking throught its entirety. There’s even a fun outro too.

“The Waters” – Anderson .Paak (feat. BJ the Chicago Kid) (2016)
One of the more memorable tracks off of Anderson .Paak’s record, “Malibu,” best shows why Madlib should be working with more R&B artists. .Paak smoothly harmonizes before rapping on the verses over tight knit drums. The track has an immaculate atmosphere and is a perfect transition from the previous song.

“No More Parties in LA” – Kanye West (feat. Kendrick Lamar) (2016)
The only track to ever officially release with both Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West on it is a gem. It will forever be a back and forth argument of who outrapped who, but regardless it is a vocal performance of a lifetime. The beat, filled with vocal chops and a catchy bassline doesn’t get old even after its six plus minute runtime.

“Palmolive” – Freddie Gibbs, (feat. Killer Mike & Pusha T) (2019)
Madlib has easily given Freddie Gibbs some of the best tracks and albums of his career. The sample used of a woman howling looped is extremely powerful, along with incredible performances from all three rappers makes for a classic track. It makes fans wish there were more collaborations from Pusha T and Madlib.

Essential Madlib Produced Album:

“Madvillainy” – MF DOOM, Madlib, Madvillain

“Madvillainy” is an anomaly when it comes to discussing the best rap albums of all time. The structure is the record is unconventional with 22 tracks and an average length of the song of just around two minutes. There are no hooks or choruses. There are three instrumentals and one introduction and plenty of spoken word interludes between tracks. Just minutes in the supervillain duo brings listeners into their dark and obscure world.

MF DOOM’s wordplay is on point here. Nearly every bar has two or three rhyme schemes, and it flows off of his tongue like butter. On “Figaro” he raps, “It's too hot to handle, you got blue sandals | Who shot ya? Ooh got you new spots to vandal?” It is spoken poetry, and it was spoken by one of the best ever.

Sometimes the album can invoke intense emotion as well. “Fancy Clown,” featuring DOOM’s alter ego, Viktor Vaughn plays out like a scene from a movie over a dreary piano and a gorgeous chopped vocal sample. The “Meat Grinder” instrumental features unnerving synthesizers with a heavy bass line.

The album’s best song, “All Caps,” shows the creative genius of Madlib. From an ominous scale to woodwind instruments playing back and forth, it sounds like a battle is taking place between good vs. evil. It also spawned a quote that will forever be used to honor the late MF DOOM, “Just remember ALL CAPS when you spell the man name.”

There is no other record that sounds like “Madvillany.” The record has sold an estimated 150,000 copies and is considered to be the magnum opus for both Madlib and DOOM. It remains triumphant as one of the most influential experimental records of all time, and will forever have a special place in fans' hearts.

Caelan Chevrier is a third-year majoring in marketing. To contact him, email

About the Contributors

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Caelan Chevrier

Third Year / Marketing & Journalism

Caelan Chevrier is a third-year student in the Smeal College of Business at Penn State University studying marketing and broadcast journalism with the goal of graduating with a bachelor’s degree in four years. His career goal is to spread informative, meaningful, and entertaining content across various platforms and to be a positive impact on the community. He has also spent time working at WWE in the communications department and writing for The Westport Local Press in his hometown of Westport, CT. If you’d like to contact him, email him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).