Madlib (DJ Rels) :: Theme for a Broken Soul :: Stones Throw Records
as reviewed by Dan Mennella

If you're getting annoyed by the whole alias fad in hip hop (especially these cooky, slightly-demented backpackers), you're probably not alone. MF Doom (whose aliases are too numerous to remember, and too long for the sake of brevity in a review such as this) may be the one to blame. Either way, it can be downright confusing at times. Nevertheless, DJ Rels is, for all intents and purposes, the production genius more-commonly known as Madlib.

One trait Madlib has never lacked is creativity—and though his releases like Shades of Blue, Champion Sound, and Madvillainy certainly set a thematic sound—so too does "Theme for a Broken Soul", albeit a very different one from what we've grown accustomed to. But on this release, Madlib strikes out completely on his own; there are no much-anticipated collaborations with artists like MF Doom or Jay Dee, and there is no reclamation project for the underappreciated art forms of the past (a la Shades of Blue). Putting aside his affinity for jazz and obscure soul records, Madlib instead turns to more funk, dance and electronica influenced sounds to build his latest compositions. I use the term compositions deliberately because it would be unfair to refer to Madlib as anything less than a composer—a producer legendary for his re-recording of samples and sounds with live instrumentation that he admirably plays himself.

The individual stand-out tracks on "Theme for a Broken Soul" are difficult to pick out simply because instrumental tracks rarely do so, and even less on a release such as this which features such a low frequency of disparate tracks in terms of quality. In other words, this album flows especially well from one track to the next (not unlike most other Madlib releases), and the absence of vocals, which undoubtedly add distinction to more formulaic hip hop, only accentuate this affect. The dreamy organ vibes of the aptly-titled "Waves" and the trance-inducing bass line of the marathon listen "Broken Soul/Dawn" (it clocks in at just over 9 minutes). Picking "highlight" tracks off this LP really proves to be an exercise in futility, if not for its lack of 50 Cent catchiness (for better or worse), but also because Madlib does not make individual tracks—he makes full length albums. Yes, you can skip from track to track on your trusty mp3 player by pushing forward, or by dropping the needle on a different spot on the wax (for you old schoolers), but it would be a disservice to yourself as a listener. Instead, this one should be allowed to play from start to back, just the way Madlib intended.

You won't bump this in your homie's Jeep, pimped out with subs galore, sitting on 22 inch chrome, and you won't make love to your girl as this record plays softly in the background (although I suppose you could, in both instances). Rather, you'll likely pull this one out when you're sitting in your living room with your boys, sharing some brownies of the green variety or even just "staring into space / when you're feeling berzerk" as the great Q-Tip once said. The multiple handle may or may not be getting stale, but that doesn't stop this from being yet another valuable addition to Madlib's already impressive catalogue. When you're as well accomplished as Madlib is, you've earned the right to try something a little different like this. Heck, he's already made a career out of it.

Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: n/a of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10

Originally posted: August 31, 2004