Madvillainy is an almost one-of-a-kind listening experience. It’s highly intriguing and enriching, but so many fragments and ideas are thrown at you that it sometimes leaves you feeling like there actually wasn’t that much fully formed substance to grab onto.
The album feels scatterbrained — MF Doom’s abstract lyrical approach, which leans much more on one liners and clever metaphors than sensical story telling, matches Madlib’s choppy, sample-heavy production in a way that feels appropriate but sometimes makes tracks sound like ideas instead of full thoughts.
The spontaneous nature of Madvillainy keeps you on your toes and never lets you quite settle in, even though the consistency in the production style makes that album feel like it’s all one piece and coming from the same place. It’s cold and sparse, but the occasional humor, imagery and personality keeps your attention, even with the lack of choruses or conventional song structures.
That scatterbrained format does make Madvillainy feel kind of like homework at times. At 46 minutes, it isn’t particularly long, especially for a hip-hop record from the early 2000s. But being 22 unique songs — with abrupt transitions and style switches — makes it feel a lot longer. Repeat listens are rewarding though, unlocking different details and textures each time through that give every song a purpose.
Sure, there are moments and parts that are more memorable or instantly gratifying than others. “All Caps” feels like a comic book page coming to life. “Money Folder” is an 8-bit Gameboy soundboard hidden behind a booming drum kit. “Accordion” sounds like a cross between a funeral eulogy and carnival sideshow, especially when joined at the hip with the borderline schizo-sounding “Meat Grinder.” “Figaro,” “Eye,” “Great Day,” and “Rhinestone Cowboy” each introduce new sounds, from Stacy Epps vocals to the crown whistles and applause on the the closing track, which always reminds me of a Wu-Tang Clan for some reason.
More often than not though, when I listen to Madvillainy, I remember the good moments as I get to them. It isn’t the type of record that has clear standout tracks that deserve to be put on repeat on there own. I think it all works together to form a really interesting record that’s captivating and I keep coming back to.