Album Review: Madlib – Sound Ancestors

Oren Brown reviews the most recent release from renown DJ and producer Madlib.

Oren Brown
8th February 2021

Legendary producer Madlib combines with Four Tet to create a colourful and diverse collage of music on Sound Ancestors18-years on from Shades of Blue, the 'Beat Conductor’ retains his place at the top of the instrumental hip-hop pyramid. 

When it comes to instrumental hip-hop, few look further than the “magical superpowered trinity” of J Dilla, MF DOOM and Madlib. Following DOOM’s recent passing, Madlib is the last living member of the trio. “Maybe [Sound Ancestors] could be quite a positive thing,” Madlib said in mourning of his friend and collaborator. "Dilla’s gone, DOOM’s gone, but [Madlib] is hanging in there, going strong and not giving up.” 

For this outing, Madlib combines with the broadly-talented Kieran Hebden of Four Tet, who further complements Madlib’s skill for selecting and reimagining music. Sampling is a frequently undervalued artform, with dramatic reinvention of sound often coming from the least expected place. Sound Ancestors has a lot to offer in this regard, with its source material originating from wildly varying sources. 

There’s a roughness around the edges of Sound Ancestors that makes it human. This isn’t a surprise, though, as one of Madlib’s most defining creative ideologies is his disregard for perfectionism. “I like human mistakes,” he said in regard to music, “If it's too clean or polished, I don't like it.” Thus, his songs are rarely arcing, progressive epics. Brief, impactful loops are his lifeblood. Sound Ancestors does not betray this rule of thumb, as its tracks rarely surpass the three-minute mark. 

The scatter-brained, plunderphonic style of the album keeps it fresh from front to back. Madlib finds an overall cohesion in the feel and tone of the record but makes sure to keep the listener engaged from track-to-track. He lays down a loop, lets it sit for a couple of minutes, and then switches it up completely. This comes as no surprise either, as Madlib has described himself as a “DJ first, producer second.” 

If you’re expecting a bombastic, attention-demanding experience akin to Piñata or Madvillainy you may be left wanting, but if you can appreciate purely instrumental hip-hop then look no further than Sound Ancestors. As Madlib approaches his fourth decade in the industry, he has well and truly perfected the craft of imperfection.


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AUTHOR: Oren Brown
English student. @orenajb

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