Thursday, September 22, 2005

Quasimoto


[have been struggling to write my definitive piece on Madlib and his music, a quest begun for the first issue of Loose Lips Sink Ships, four pages strung together from a five minute photo shoot and a ten minute garbled phone interview. Spring of this year, 'Lib came over to the UK to promote his second Quasimoto album, The Further Adventures Of Lord Quas, and I got to meet him in person. i still don't feel i've quite done his trippy swarm of ideas justice yet, but this piece for Plan B was a genuine attempt...]



In Jeff Jank’s loopy, cut’n’paste mind, Quasimoto is a Kool Aid-red space-alien with pointy ears like a squirrel, a big-assed snout halfway between a hippo and a pig, a doobie perma-glued to his sneering lip, his eyes heavy-liddedly gazing at the ass that passes his brownstone palace of paranoia. Across Jank’s sleeve artwork of Quasimoto’s two albums to date, 2000’s The Unseen and this year’s The Further Adventures Of Lord Quas, the luminous blob (at different points red, snot-green and ice-blue) nonchalantly tosses demo tapes out the window of a speeding motorcar, his victim tied helplessly between the fins on the trunk; sprays graffiti on a wall while dressed like a member of Run DMC; split’s a 40 and a spliff with his producer Madlib in the back of a grotty taxi-cab; stabs an enemy in the spine with a trident after bashing his face n with a brick and/or hammer; and stares up the skirt of a young girl, gazing blankly at her white-pantied undercarriage.
You’ve got to forgive Jank; Quasimoto’s music stirs up such visions, a rich and shimmering mess of twisted samples and tweaked verses that pieces together a vile and virulently alive caricature of the mean streets of America. Through Quasimoto’s verses stroll a menagerie of the forgotten, winos and street people, whores and pimps, criminals and their victims. Fringed and laced with dope-paranoia, it’s a colourful and profane nightmare, all-consuming and overwhelming, hilarious and terrifying, bleak and strangely affectionate.
Its like plugging into the lurid, neon-toned world of Corky McCoy, the illustrator whose psychedelic street paintings housed Miles Davis’s ‘On The Corner’ albums, and who helped translate Bill Cosby’s Fat Albert character for Saturday Morning Cartoons - and wouldn’t Quas make a fine subject for a show on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim strand, in the vein of Aqua Teen Hunger Force or the masterful Harvey Birdman, Attorney At Law? Like McCoy’s paintings, Quasimoto’s music bleeds with a sense of acidic heightened reality, Quas twisting his gritty world into comical shapes for his own jaded, morally-blank entertainment.
The Unseen opened with ‘Welcome To Violence’, a 49 second skit stolen from some obscure spoken-word album, setting the tone for the album, preaching menacingly of the evils of sex and violence. Promo copies for The Further Adventures opened with this exact same track in its entirety (it’s cut short for the official release), which this writer merely ascribed to producer Madlib’s legendarily off-kilter creativity; its message still holds true for the latter album, which similar inspects the grime underneath its guilty fingernails with an obscene and infectious relish. But this is no sleazy faux-gangsta thrill-by-proxy trip; there’s ugly sex and uglier violence in Quasimoto’s world, because that’s the way it is. Batman had his Gotham, Homer Simpson has his beloved Springfield, and Quasimoto has the swarming mess of sin and avarice he lives in.
What they also have in common is, every single one of them is a fictional character.

Deep in Madlib’s lair, The New Loopdigga’s Hideaway - a studio tucked modestly away somewhere in San Francisco - the day’s creativity has begun. Within these cramped walls, the producer - christened Otis Jackson Jr, son of an R&B singer and his main songwriter, grand-son and nephew to legendary jazz musicians - has recorded hours of music under a plethora of alter-egos. The Loopdigga. The Beat Conductor. One-man perv-jazz instrumentalists, Yesterday’s New Quintet. Jaylib (with Slum Village producer Jay Dee). Madvillain (with fellow rap psychedelicist MF Doom).
Today, however, is a Quasimoto session. Perhaps you can tell, by the clouds of weed gathering near the gloomy ceiling, or the scattered records - from treasured rarities to mysterious thrift-store acquisitions - piled next to the turntables, where ‘Lib is slamming the needle deep into the vinyl with slapdash inspiration, chipping nonsensical slivers of soul, jazz and comedy away to flavour his own concoctions. The giveaway, however, comes when ‘Lib steps up to the mic, to give voice to his most beloved creation, stink-fingered ghetto tearaway Quasimoto. His beats slowed down to quarter speed, the producer/MC delivers the lines like his lips were dragging through molasses. This is how Quasimoto gets his trademark pitch, a couple of notes higher than Eminem, like he’s still giddy after huffing on a cocktail of helium and laughing gas.
There are so many ‘Madlib’s out there, the Madlib who produces records for Lootpack, the Madilb who records as Yesterday’s New Quintet, the Madlib who pretends he’s Quasimoto… Which is the real Madlib?
“I’m Madlib The Loopdigga, I’m Madlib the Beat Conductor, I’m Madlib the asshole, if you want,” he slurs with a chuckle, chowing down on chicken in a London Nando’s during a whirlwind press trip. “I wanna be Madlib the Sleepin’ Guy right now, huh huh huh.”
Otis Jackson Jr is a tired man right now, though I know from experience he’s not the world’s greatest interview subject at the best of times. Otis spends almost every waking hour thinking up beats and tracks, toying with his turntable and writing lyrics; its just what he does. He estimates we’ve heard barely 10% of the music he’s made, and he’s similarly reluctant to offer much of himself up in interview. Not that he’s holding anything back - facts are surrendered willingly, and he demystifies what he can of his various working practices. He even swears weed isn’t as crucial to the Quasimoto sound as the albums’ constant hosannas to the herb would suggest: “It’s not important, but it’s what I like to do,” he says, “I can make music with or without weed, it’s nothing special. Back in the days it used to help, but now I’m used to weed; it doesn’t really phase me now. My mind’s so open already it doesn’t even matter.”
And the constant references to weed and its creativity-enhancing powers on the records?
“It’s just comedy. For people who are barely smoking, and the people who know what we’re talking about.”
Comedy is a key character of Quasimoto music. Not only are Quas’s various adventures mostly ludicrous and hilarious - albeit of a very Furry Freak Brothers/National Lampoon Radio Hour wit - many of the wild, vagrant voices heard on the album are excerpted from old Laff Records, comedians like Redd Foxx and Moms Mabley.
“It’s about having fun,” says ‘Lib. “A lot of people are too serious right now, things are getting’ crazy. I’m just trying to keep the fun coming, throw up a little comedy.
“I’m, like, basically toned down,” he continues, sounding for a moment like the thirty-something family man he actually is. “My shit’s not all out there like Quasimoto’s. I’m chillin’, he’s crazy. If I’m in a room full of people, I’ll probably just sit there and say nothing. Quas ain’t like that.”
Though he treads a very solitary path, Quas has some homies who ride with him. There’s MF Doom, ‘Lib’s partner in Madvillain. “Doomsday was my favourite album for a long while,” remembers ‘Lib. “I called him up, sent him some stuff. He wanted to rap over Yesterday’s New Quintet, but I told him I had another idea. He’s a cool cat. He’s complex, he’s not simple. He’s hard to explain. Our lifestyles are kinda the same, except for the stuff that doesn’t matter. We don’t even have to talk, we could work together all day and not say a word, and it will be cool.”
Quasimoto has another partner in Crhyme, a croaky voice from the dawn of Blaxploitation, yelling his wisdoms and his madness into the uncaring din like Quasimoto’s own Mudbone. Melvin Van Peebles is the godfather of rap, after his soundtrack for his pioneering and self-financed slab of Blaxploitation cinema, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. Infamously, he recorded his teenaged son Mario - now a film-maker himself - losing his virginity to a prostitute and set it to music. Madlib is now working on Van Peebles’ next album.
“He’s crazy, man,” laughs ‘Lib at the thought of Van Peebles. “The first time I met him he grabbed me and told me, ‘I’m gonna kill you, motherfucker!’ He was all in my shit. He’s legendary, I like him…”

For his insane sonic creativity, for the mythos he weaves into his tangled records, and for his increasing cult status among clued-in hip-hop fans, Madlib is the genre’s own Lee Perry. It’s another alter-ego, perhaps, a comparison that he likes.
“I’m inspired by Lee Perry, read books on him, watched documentaries. He’s crazy. Legendary. I would love to be like him. I’m kinda productive like him. I don’t have a copy of everything I’ve recorded, but J Rocc of the World Famous Beat Junkies, he has a complete collection, so I’m always hitting him up to hear stuff, and he says I’m trippin’, I’m on some Lee Perry shit.”
Madlib seems most comfortable playing out these alter-egos, the hip-hop Lee Perry, the switchblade-wielding cartoon character Quasimoto, or five dues-paying jazzbo cats called Yesterday’s New Quintet. Quas is still the dominant persona, however.
“He’s mischievous, he’s badly behaved,” ponders ‘Lib. “He’s the reason I don’t have to act shit out, huh huh huh.”
Quasimoto is an archetype in the line of Stagger Lee, a figure of violent, attractive mischief. Is it more fun to be Quasimoto than Madlib?
“My girlfriend don’t like it,” he snorts. “She thinks he’s real. That’s why this is our last album together. He stole my girl.”

(c) Stevie Chick, 2005

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