Jaylib was like a fantasy-league sports team. The pairing of two unlikely collaborators was certainly something that, in retrospect, still sounds like a dream. These type of things just never happen; J Dilla, the MPC renaissance man, and Madlib, the abstract-minded jack of all trades, had been fan favorites for years, revolutionizing both the underground and mainstream scenes. It would only make sense that Stones Throw be the label to bring them together, sparking a series of projects that would go on to define the label as one of the greatest in indie hip hop.
“Champion Sound” snuck up on unsuspecting fans, never really generating great buzz and ultimately being overshadowed by the success of “Madvillainy.” Still, it went down as a cult classic, and with Dilla material on high demand since his tragic passing, Stones Throw organized a reissue of the 2003 album. Following up the recent Dilla reissue of the “Ruff Draft” EP, round 2 of “Champion Sound” is not only timely, but a good deal for buyers. In addition to pretty, exclusive packaging, there’s a second disc stuffed with remixes and instrumentals for fanatics to drool over.
Of course the original material is nice, too. “Starz” is Dilla rocking the Just Blaze-esque, high-pitched soul, and he overwhelms Talib Kweli with the fast-paced bump of “Raw Shit.” “Pillz” is a dizzying trip, perfect for Quas and his human counterpart to spin wacked-out tales to. But it’s behind the boards where Madlib steals the show. “The Official” bangs on the strength of a larger-than-life trumpet sample, while “The Mission” knocks to strings and a simple piano melody. “Mcnasty Filth” is the real standout, Madlib conducting an addictive beat that uses a truly awesome, deep buzzing noise. I couldn’t tell you what it is, but it’s great. Fans will be disappointed in the exclusion of “The Red,” as it was scrapped due to sample clearance issues and its replacement fails to live up to the original.
The beats are a given, but lyrically, it’s not exactly something to write home about. Generally we’re told how dope Madlib and Dilla are, and how many bitches they have. This really doesn’t hurt the album, because usually it just works. On “Mcnasty Filth,” Dilla gets grands with partners Frank-n-Dank, and it sounds good, making for something of an underground club. However Dilla ruins the steam of “Survival Test” with lackluster delivery and rhymes that hardly compliment the frantic beat. Madlib does go slightly outside the box for the aforementioned “Starz” and “Pillz,” but it’s not quite enough to make amends for the rest of the album (he rhymes “trees” and “knees” on more than one occasion).
The real draw for the re-release is disc 2, which includes a number of never-before-heard Madlib remixes, and the instrumentals for all the originals. Madlib puts on his Dilla cap for the stringed-out “The Mission” remix (sounds just like a “Donut”), goes all-out Doug E. Fresh for the beatbox-apella version of “The Official,” and possibly one-ups “Strapped,” as Guilty Simpson sounds even better over the descending keys. The chronic-mix of “Heavy” is decent, but it’s a big step up from the boring original.
“Champion Sound” has stood the test of time, going down as one of the first standout releases from Stones Throw, but more importantly making it trendy for stars to come together and collaborate. Fanatics will definitely enjoy the remixes, but newcomers to the album are in for a trip – plus the new sleeve is spiffy, I’m telling you.