posted: 10-14-04
photo: eric coleman, lifted from
interview : adrian schraeder
Even Lou Donaldson, Melvin Sparks and Reuben Wilson know: Madlib's the man. Every time this guy steps in the studio, wizardry is being made. He creates sick music in nearly every genre. Before his show at the Montreux Jazz Festival this summer, we were sharing a rare moment of daylight with the Californian beat maestro and talked about his passion of making music, his favorite car and his and Quasimotos' issues.
You haven't done too many shows in the last couple of years, right?
Not too many. I traveled out for like months and then just like a show here and there, you know what I'm sayin'.
Did the collaboration with Jaydee encourage you to do more shows?
Uhm, I had to. It's not that I wanted to. I wanna be in the studio, but you have to sell the records, so you have to go do some shows. Shows I can take 'em or leave 'em. I'm a studio dude. My main love is being in the studio. I like to make music 24 hours a day.
But isn't it good to get feedback, to get in contact with your fans?

Yeah, but I'm a background type of dude. I'm not like a dude that likes to be up front where people are all looking at me. I'm a shy dude; I be in the background making my beats, you know what I'm sayin'? Chillin'.
But yeah, it's good. It's good to see the love people giving and I try to give the love back.

So you miss your Bomb Shelter?
Yeah. Actually I moved from there. I got my own place now. But yeah, I miss the studio.
That wasn't your own place?
No. I was living with Peanut Butter Wolf.
Do you know what you would do if you were in the studio right now?
I be finishing up my Quasimoto album. It's almost done.
What are you doing if you're not in the studio?
Hangin' with a girl, feed my daughter. But I'm always in the studio.
Do you do your projects all in one block, one after the other? Or did you switch from one to another constantly?
It was all like at once. Like I do Dudley Perkins one day, then the next day be Madvillain and so on. That's how I always work. Ten projects at once.
And how can you handle that?
I don't think about it. I just do the music. I don't think about it how other people think; it just happens. I get bored, so I gotta move to something else. I get bored easy.
Is that also the reason why you collaborate with other MCs?
The reason why I collaborate with MCs is that I wanna see if my style can fit with theirs or vice versa. See if we can bring something together. With anybody. I collaborate with anybody who is dope.
What does an artist need to work with you?
Just be dope. And have some money (laughs). Be dope. That's all: just be dope. Have an open, creative mind.
Is it always you who chose the artists that you work with?
Uhm, yeah, or like: When we were doing Madvillain, we were supposed to do one song. It turned into a whole album, cause he liked the music so much. We were just trying to work on, see if we can do a song together and it turned into a whole album.
And he just stayed at your place till the record was done?
He stayed at Wolfs', yeah.
For how long?
For a couple of days, maybe a week and a half.
The lyrics that Doom came up with, did you talk with him about them before?
Naw, I trusted him on that. He's one of my favorite lyricists. So I trusted him already. And shit came out crazy. I trust everybody I work with, I don't have to tell things. We trust each other. Just connect without sayin' and shit, you know what I'm sayin'? There's only certain people that you can do that with.
The album took a long time for it to get released!
Yeah. Politics and stuff. You gotta press the records up and stuff, promote the record. So that takes a while.
Isn't that annoying?
Yeah, because by the time you hear it, we're already done with the new one, almost.
I really like Medaphoars part on the Madvillain album, on the track "Raid".
Yeah, yeah, his album will be out next year. It's coming out soon, it's dope!
On Stones Throw?
Yeah, fo' real, though.
How many tracks did you produce on it?
I did half of it. My brother Oh No did the other half.
He's your younger brother, right?
How old are you?
I'm old, pretty old. Pretty young too, though. I don't let that be known. Only I know that (laughs).
That Oh No's a hip-hop producer too, did that happened by chance?
We used to live together. And I had my equipment there. When I left, he could do his thing, you know?
The "Stevie" record that came out is about two years old, right?
Yeah, Jaylib too. I had all that stuff when I was in Brazil. I was bumpin' it back then. But you ain't see no more bootlegs, it's all good. The things goin' to be a surprise now.
You mentioned Brazil. I saw pictures of your hotel room studio on the Stones Throw website.
Yeah, Brazil was tight. I was makin' beats. I leave to Brazil next week. I gonna be making beats. Just going out there on a vacation and just make beats.
So that's all you need: Your tiny little sampler, a cheep turntable and a stereo system?
Yeah, some records. That's where Hip-Hop is from anyway: Records and sampling. That's what I do, you know what I'm sayin'?
Did you bring your equipment to Switzerland too?
Usually I bring my stuff anywhere. I didn't bring it this time, but I'm bringing my stuff everywhere, you know what I'm sayin'? If I have time for that long enough, I bring all my equipment and buy records at a store. Make some beats.
Did you buy some hot Bossa Nova records in Brazil?
I bought everything. Funk, Soul, Rock, not just Bossa Nova. They got everything out there.
Tell me about your studio! How is it equipped?
The studio's very basic.
[The waitress comes and asks: "You made your choice?"]
Let me just order my food real quick. [Talks to the waitress] I'll have the chicken.
Uhm, my studio's basic; mad records. I don't have no computers, I don't have any big setups people have. I just have my 303 sampler, or SP 12, or whatever I use and just records. And a little eight digital board. That's all I need. That's how I did all my records: Madvillain, Jaylib and all of that.
Doesn't that limit your possibilities?
It doesn't limit. It doesn't limit my possibilities. People just think they need computers and things to do the work for them, but I do my stuff the old school way, the hard way, you know what I'm sayin'?
So you been using the same equipment for more than ten years?
Yeah. I mean I buy new things like a MPC, but it's still basically the same. I'll be having no computer setup or 24 tracks and none of that Pro Tools. I don't have that thing yet.
Who taught you to use this equipment?
Me. I just taught myself. Just messing with things.
Reading the manuals.
No (laughs). Just messing with things. I mean, the basic yeah, but I don't read the whole manual. You read how to start, and that's it. Basic. Cause all those machines are the same. It's what you put into it.
Can you name the essential elements of a Madlib track?
Ahm, just some dirty ass loops, some dirty loops. Any type of sound. But you have to have like a certain drum pattern, I guess. But it all stems from records. It's always different. I just say the essential thing to have is your records and the equipment. And ideas. The ideas that I have in my head. Everybody's on their own special thing, you know what I'm sayin'? I'm just trying to make good music, whether it's Hip-Hop, Reggae, Soul or whatever. That's what people have to understand: I'm not just Hip-Hop, I'm just good music.
Can you explain how you trained your ears for producing music?
I think my parents and my grandparents trained my ears, 'cause they showed me different types of music. They showed me like Jazz, Soul, Classical, my mother showed me Rock and…
On purpose?
'Cause they liked every type of music. They are musicians also. My mother wrote my fathers music, my uncle was a jazz musician and this and that, so… They just showed me all these different things, so I knew all these other types of music before Hip-Hop.
And they wanted you to become a musician?
No, they just knew I like music and they showed me different music. I don't think they wanted me to become a musician. But that's what happened. (laughs). Hard life. (laughs again quite intensively.)
Did you ever invite some of your family members to the studio?
Naw, I'm like a hermit. I'm on my own shit. Like the black sheep, I'm just on my own shit. I'm by myself, always. I'm not really doing all this mingling with people. I'm like always zonin' out. Meditating and shit. I'm on my own shit. I was always doing my own thing, you know what I'm sayin'?
When did you get professionally into music?
1996. And my father put out my first 12'': Lootpack "Psychmood".
Was that right after you finished school or…
I mean I was serious the whole time, but I didn't get to get a record out until '96. I was serious since like '87. But I didn't get anything out till like '93: The Alkaholiks. But my own stuff I didn't get out till '96, you know what I'm sayin'?
Did you go on tour with your father or your uncle when you were a kid?
Naw, I was always in the studio with my father. That's why I like being in the studio so much, 'cause he always had me up in there. Just watchin' 'em do their thing. That's how I learned. His stuff was with a whole band, my stuff is just me. He was a main singer. My mother wrote all his music.
Your mother wrote the music for your father?
Yeah, so it was like a family thing.
That's how they both meet?
Uhm, naw, I don't think so. But I don't remember (laughs).
You lived your whole life in California?
Yeah, Oxnard, California. About an hour away from Los Angeles.
On the beach?
No, it's a very small little town. Nothing to talk about. Just a small little town.
Can you explain how you work with other guys? How do you communicate with your studio guests? Maybe by taking the Dudley Perkins record as an example?
Well, he did that album when he was in the studio himself. He just picked all the beats. Him and Wolf were in the studio, like directing all that shit. I just gave him a bunch of beats to pick. Just give him whatever beats he wants and see what he can do, and that's what came up. I wasn't even in the studio when they did that stuff.
So you didn't talk about…
Naw, that's his idea, that's all his idea.
I just ask because of these weird adlibs and background voices…
That's him, that's all him. He does that with his rapping too: if you listen to his raps, he does that weird stuff with his rapping too.
You said that you were into Funk, Soul, Rock and Jazz from early on, but which hip-hop acts influenced you?
Boogie Down Productions, 45 King and the Flavor Unit, Public Enemy, N.W.A.
And now? Is there anyone in today's hip-hop-scene that inspires you?
Doom, Jaydee, Pete Rock, Premo. Those people inspire me a lot.
Did you work with Tribe Called Quest?
No, I worked with Busta Rhymes. I did some stuff with him.
I thought Tribe Called Quest planned on coming to your studio.
That didn't happen. They're not doing an album anymore.
Uhm, personal conflicts I think. They don't get along. But I just try to do my own thing, I don't know. I did some stuff for De La Soul's new album, like five tracks; four or five tracks. One on Busta's new album, some stuff possibly on Talib Kweli's album.
Can you describe a normal day in your life?
Just wake up, smoke some weed, ahm…
When do you usually get up?
Maybe two o'clock in the afternoon, maybe six in the morning, it's always different. Wake up, smoke some weed, make some beats, probably do a couple of jazz songs, later on I probably do some ol' hip-hop. It's always different really. I get bored. It's various. Just working constantly, tough.
I read somewhere that you're creating sixty minutes of new music, every day. Is that true?
Yeah, yeah, sometimes. Not all the time. Sometimes I get to a point where I can't do music anymore, where I have done too much. Then I take a trip with a girl or something, relax. Then come back and do some music. Sometimes you get dry spells, where you can't do music.
Do you listen to your own records?
A little bit, yeah, sometimes. I mean, by the time it comes out, I'm already played out on it. I'm already on to the next thing.
Do you buy new hip-hop records?
Not really, I'm always workin'. I listen to old records.
What are you listening to at the moment?
I'm just creating music, actually. All I'm doing is listening to old records and create my own music.
What kind of old records?
Aw, such as Sun Ra, Down The Nectar, Soft Machine, Gentle Giant, Thelonious Monk…
Can you recommend a few jazz records?
I would suggest Sun Ra "Atlantis". Where they explaining, when shit was under water what is it doing musically. But he's doing it musically. If you have an open mind, you can see what he's saying musically. It is weird.
David Axelrod "Songs of Innocence" and any Thelonious Monk record, 'cause his music wasn't what it's supposed to be. He did his own thing, made his own thing up and that's what I'm talking about.
Your one of the few American musicians that support European music, I suppose. I heard you biggin' up Seiji on "The Red".
Yeah, 'cause they're innovating. They're doing a new type of thing.
Have you been to London?
Yeah, I hung out with all of them. 4Hero, I.G. Culture, all of them.
Why are many of those other producers in America so ignorant?
They're scared. They just want some money. I like money too, but I also like some good music first. They're all about money and hits, that's all they care about. That's all good, but you got to be real to yourself at the end of the day.
What do you do with your money?
Put it in the bank. I put my money in the bank. Buy some ol' records and feed my kids. I'm a regular man. I got regular stuff in mind.
Maybe buy a pink colored Range Rover?
Naw, man! Hell no. Buy a Yugo. Or a scooter, a motorized scooter. Or I put big ass diamonds in my teeth. (grins)
Do you care about the business part of making a record?
I care about sales, but I don't know about the business plan of the company.
Which one of your albums has been the most successful?
Madvillain. Second would be Quasimoto. The least would probably be Lootpack and Jaylib or something.
That's surprising.
Yeah, very surprising. A lot of people are hating on it, but it's okay. The next one is gonna hurt 'em. It's coming out next year. And new Madvillain, and new Blue Note, and new Quasimoto, new Yesterday's New Quintet. All that.
How did you come up with the idea of changing into Quasimoto?
I was on drugs and I just wanted to do something different. I was in the studio by myself with a gang of beats and I wanted to try something different, with a different voice. I look at my voice as too low, you know what I'm sayin'? People understand it more when I do the Quasimoto stuff. I just did it for myself first and then he [points at PB Wolf] heard it and then shit came out. I just did it for myself, I didn't think people would understand it. But that was one of my best selling records. (laughs)
It's a lot about the sound of the voice, right?
Just being free, yeah. Say whatever I wanna say, crazy shit, and like crazy beats, you know. Short songs, just like, I look at them as scenes, from a movie or something. Different scenes. So you don't get bored. Makes you wanna hear it again. Go back.
Tell me a little bit more about your future projects! When is the Quasimoto album coming out?
The Quasimoto album will be out next year. The single will be out by the end of the year. It's just a continuation from the first album "The Unseen". Nothing new, nothing old, it's just like the same thing, at a different time.
"Yesterdays Universe", which is a compilation of all the Yesterdays New Quintet groups that I have; a compilation of all the stuff you ain't heard. Another Blue Note album coming out. Oh No's album, Medaphoar's album. Another Dudley Perkins record's coming up. Instrumental beat records. Just a continuation of all the stuff that I do.
Do those different roles, all those musicians from the Yesterday's New Quintet and also Quasimoto, represent your various moods?
Uhm, I don't know. What do you mean? Everybody acts like the Yesterday's New Quintet is just me. People act like Quasimoto is me. It's not me, it's my homeboy, I just do the beats, you know? (short laughter)
I mean it could be that he comes only out on special occasions, when you're in a special mood.
Uhm, naw. Quasimoto is in the water right now, chilling. Trying to look at girls. Hooking up with girls and stuff (laughs) I do the beats, and I also rap on the album. You hear me rapping with my homeboy Quas.
So he's one of your best friends?
Sometimes we get along, sometimes I hate 'em. Sometimes we don't get along. He tries to take my girls and shit.
But you pay him?
Wolf pays him.
If you could go to the studio this afternoon, could it be that you would do something inspired by that what you saw last night?
Yeah, I go home and do some jazz. I'm just looking at this scenery right here. [pauses, looks down on lake Geneva]. It's always different. It's never the same, that's the problem. I just get ideas from everything. Different peoples, energies that come across, whatever.
But isn't it difficult for you to form an album?
Naw, that's like… I just record, and whatever you hear is what happens. I just record a lot of stuff. I put an album together every day. (laughs) I try to record in album format. Play with different sounds. Try to make everything different. Then it turns up to be an album.
I'll let you eat now. Thanks a lot!
Yeah, we be talking for a while now. The chicken is getting cold. But anyway, 'been a pleasure. Bye.
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