Many of my favorite hip-hop albums from the last 15 years are Madlib productions. From Freddie Gibbs’ “Pinata” to MF DOOM’s “Madvillainy” to Talib Kweli’s “Liberation” and more, Madlib seems to have impeccable taste when it comes to the artists he’ll work with and the instrumentals that he provides them. That doesn’t mean absolutely EVERY project Madlib does is all that and a bag of chips, but it does mean that a higher percentage of those chips are not the generic bargain bag variety you get at Aldi. Those might be good in a pinch, but what if you want something with CRUNCH and outstanding flavor? That’s when you want Kettle chips! That’s Madlib. He brings the spices and the crispy drums that make you crave the flav.
Now that I’m done exposing myself as someone who should eat more celery, let’s talk about Kazi & Madlib’s “Blackmarket Seminar“. Over a decade ago Adam Bernard interviewed Kazi (real name Chris Rolle) for the website, and it’s not as though his career ended with “The Hip Hop Project” documentary he and Adam rapped about. Rapping is one of Kazi’s many fortes, but it seems as though it took a producer of Madlib’s stature to bring that side of Rolle’s multi-faceted personality into the light to shine. I can’t pinpoint a date the two would have met to even conceive to collaborate, but given how well connected Kazi is — everybody from Bruce Willis to Queen Latifah is in his Rolodex — it’s no surprise for an album like this to happen.
“To Be Lost” threw me off at the start. Madlib’s interjections made me think I was listening to one of his Quasimoto albums and the cinematic Kung-Fu style backdrop made me think of a RZA project. Neither of those are bad things, but it wasn’t until “Called Your Bluff” that I started to get a better sense of the Kazi/Madlib collaboration. While the hook has a traditionally formatted rhyme structure, the flow and construction of the verses is more akin to Wildchild, who stands high on my personal list of “most slept on” emcees in hip-hop. Madlib enhances that on-and-off delivery with layered jazz instruments that weave in and out of the presentation underneath the lyrics. It’s a hypnotizing presentation.
Madlib is the kind of producer who doesn’t just push the envelope — he feeds it through a shredder, glues the envelope back together, and shreds it all over again. There are near mythical tales of him not letting his artists listen to the beats until they are done, forcing them to bend their raps to match his music instead of the other way around. That’s certainly the impression one would get from experimental songs like “O.X. Veterans” and “Snake Eyes”, the latter also featuring Madlib and Medaphoar. Most emcees would not ASK to rap over beats like that. Kazi (short for Kamikaze) is up to the challenge. What’s remarkable about this is that the two recorded this album in 1996(?!), which is almost inconceivable when it sound as madcap as anything Madlib would release present day. That gives the title of the song “Sleep If You Want” EXTRA poignancy.
Shout out to the late Phife Dawg scratched into the hook of the track. “Blackmarket Seminar” is a remarkable album for all the right reasons. It’s more dated than any other Madlib release I’ve ever covered, but you wouldn’t know it if I didn’t tell you. Kazi should have been just as well known as a rapper as an activist and documentarian, but somehow this project never got the right shine. Even now it’s hella late considering that Madlib exposed it to the world in 2011 and Below Systems Records made a physical reprint a couple years back. This album isn’t just a sleeper, it’s a Snorlax, and it’s time to release it out of the ball and let it see the light.