The title of this group is a sly joke to those in the know. Otis Jackson Jr. is the birth name of celebrated rap producer Madlib, who has uses a variety of pseudonyms throughout his recording career. His most famous might be his higher pitched rap alter ego Quasimoto, but you could pick any ones that you like and make a triumvirate from them to form an Otis Jackson Jr. Trio. Around the time that “Jewelz” came out, Jackson had been releasing a series of jazz albums under the handle Yesterdays New Quintet, which is an even larger fictional group that again boils down to one man. Many resources consider “Jewelz” to actually be a YNQ album, including long time label partner Stones Throw Records, so feel free to consider it one too if you like.
Even though I’ve already used the term “jazz” in the opening paragraph, the feeling that comes from tracks like “Sport” is definitely more akin to funk. There’s an intentionally dirty bassline that dominates and reverberates throughout, which lighter wind instruments trying unsuccessfully to break through the thick clouds, until suddenly the bongos achieve what they could not. It’s as though Madlib listened to “Watch Out Now” by The Beatnuts and said “I can do that on steroids. I can make it even more rugged and wild.” And so he did — on this and other “Jewelz” tracks like “Free Son.”
That doesn’t stop Jackson/Madlib/YNQ from also delving into the classics. He covers a classic Miles Davis track named “Bitches Brew” through a track with the same name too. If it immediately sounds familiar then you probably recognize the bassline from tracks like Heavy D & the Boyz “You Can’t See What I Can See” or “Heart Full of Sorrow” by House of Pain, among dozens of others. There are no shortage of parts of the track that can be flipped, but if you know Madlib you know there aren’t many people who flip (or cover) classics quite as well as he does.
“Jewelz” is a relatively modest album by Jackson’s standards, although at nearly a half hour long the six tracks here make the most of their time. Even though this vinyl-only release is long out of print, it seems to attract only moderate interest from crate diggers, with the average secondary market price being less than anything you’d buy new on Record Store Day. That may owe to the album’s obscurity or it may owe to the fact Stones Throw now offers an all digital version for the remarkably low price of $4.95. For a half hour of Madlib’s unique combination of jazz, funk and rap you really can’t go wrong for five bucks.