(Today's Reader Review comes from frequent contributor Justa, who unpacks yet another Blu project, this one being his collaborative effort with MED and Madlib, Bad Neighbor. Leave your thoughts for Justa below.)
It’s 2015, and to echo the consciousness of the Drake and Future project released earlier this year, What A Time To Be Alive (a project I can almost guarantee Max won’t be touching in this lifetime). Over the last few years, some of those in the profession of rapping have begun to realize that working together isn’t all that bad for business, unless you’re choice in partner is R.Kelly (the two collaborative albums Jay-Z released with R. Kelly may be the worst he's ever dropped to this day). Recent pairings such as Run The Jewels (Killer Mike & El-P), Rich Gang (Birdman, Young Thug, and Rich Homie Quan), Step Brothers (Evidence & Alchemist), Nas & Damien Marley, and who could forget the spectacle that was Jay-Z & Kanye West's The Throne. Needless to say, rap stans of every sort had something their imagination could project unrealistic expectations of a classic album onto. Well, you can now add Madlib, Blu, and MED to this translucent podium of high hopes, comment sections, Twitter feeds, etc.
The trio's debut full-length album, Bad Neighbor, was officially announced September 22, 2015 via Rolling Stone. It was the follow-up to a pair of 2013 EPs, The Burgundy and The Buzz, which collectively feature 4 jawns that would eventually end up on Bad Neighbor. Producer Madlib and rappers Blu and MED, all hailing from Los Angeles, realized at some point that it wouldn’t be too much trouble to brave the terrible traffic jams the city is known for in order to put together something together for their fans.
The only problem was that we are pretty far removed from 2004, when Madlib's seminal collaboration with MF DOOM, Madvillain, dropped, and from 2007, when Blu & Exile's Below The Heavens first caught blogger attention. And as we all know, hip hop fans aren't known for being the most faithful. Although all involved have dropped very great projects since, including Madlib's project with Freddie Gibbs, Pinata, and Blu’s Good To Be Home, it has been almost two full years since those EPs hit the Internet, which either means that the trio spent a long time working on this project, or they had forgotten about the collaboration entirely, banging the album out over the course of a weekend after someone at Stones Throw Records brought it to their attention. Judging from the two singles released over the last few weeks and the songs I’ve heard from the EPs, I am not too concerned, but thanks to the research I conducted while writing the first paragraph, I was also reminded that Omarion and Bow Wow once released a joint album called Face Off, which I recently listened to for some reason and, well... that. Was. Shit. Anyway, that has little to do with what Bad Neighbor may or may not be.
With that being said, it’s about time I begin this review.
We begin our journey with a sick Madlib introductory beat which I was hoping would include some rapping at some point, but features his trademark, random voice excerpts, instead. Being that this is essentially a skit, Max would probably skip it right away.
2. SERVING (FEAT. HODGY BEATS)
Now this is more like what I was expecting. Dope beats, dope rhymes, what more can you ask for?
3. PEROXIDE (FEAT. DAM-FUNK & DJ ROMES)
Madlib and Blu were definitely the anchors behind this one. Off-kilter and quirky, this could easily be a Quasimoto track. The funked-out chorus by fellow L.A. resident/Stones Throw rep Dam-Funk sounds like it’s piped in from a space station a Funkadelic-piloted mothership may dock at. Both emcees do a great job kicking random freestyles and sound great on this non-traditional selection.
4. GET MONEY (FEAT. FRANK NITT)
A deep bass line follows some more vocal excerpts for this banger. Daz Dillinger would roll down the street with Suga Free riding shotgun and Above The Law cramped up in the back seat to this one no problem. West Coast staple right here. KDAY, where you at?
5. STREETS (FEAT. OH NO & DJ ROMES)
Remember how I said the last track was a "West Coast staple"? Well, this would be one too...just in the early 1980’s. This is a very early rap production style, so much so that I was surprised they didn't try to reach out to Law & Order: S.V.U.'s Ice-T for a contribution. (Too obvious, I would imagine.)
6. THE STROLL (FEAT. AMG)
Frequent DJ Quik collaborator of "Bitch Betta Have My Money" fame AMG leads this smooth affair. Madlib, once again, is at his best with the quirky funk. The snaps sound so crisp it’s almost as if he sampled a bowl of Rice Krispies and blended it with the sounds of a ping pong tournament. Another favorite, even with the tales of pimpin' being shared.
7. KNOCK KNOCK (FEAT. MF DOOM)
This first single, which came alongside the official announcement of the album, is another funky affair which features Mr. Victor Vaughn himself. MF Doom makes a visit to MED's crib when he's not home and isn’t exactly your ideal houseguest, and Blu spits a random verse that sounds good, but has nothing to do with the rest of the song. Regardless, this is a great track.
8. MAD NEIGHBOR
Another crazy Madlib beat, but there is no rapping to be found here, my friends. Moving on…
9. THE STRIP (FEAT. ANDERSON .PAAK)
I tried to get Max to give the talents of Anderson .Paak another shot after he expressed his own lack of interest regarding his contributions to Dr Dre’s Compton: A Soundtrack (does anyone remember this album still?). Maybe the potential on display on "The Strip" will help change his mind. This is the kind of song that allows you to imagine driving next to a beach somewhere in L.A. Early West Coast funks reimagined by Madlib, great vocal contributions, and business as usual between Blu and MED leave me nothing to be disappointed with.
10. FINER THINGS (FEAT. LIKEWISE & PHONTE)
Just when you thought you were only getting a Phonte hook, nope, you getting a new “Tigallo-Tigallo-Tigallo” verse. Current Foreign Exchange frontman/ former third of the well-acclaimed, short-lived hip hop legends Little Brother provides a great hook, as Madlib throws a two-step backdrop for our participants to kick their love of the “finer things in life”. Was good to hear a Like (why the "wise", though?) of Pac Div kick a terrific verse that holds its own with everyone else on the beat. Great choice for a second single.
11. BURGUNDY WHIP (FEAT. JIMETTA ROSE)
My introduction to the collaboration, which got me excited. Originally found on Blu’s UCLA (which was removed from his Bandcamp page after Stones Throw found out about its unauthorized release), it was later found on The Burgundy. Its inclusion sounds right at home on Bad Neighbor, as more random verses occupy the space of something that could have easily been included on Madlib's Pinata.
12. DRIVE IN (FEAT. ALOE BLACC)
This is my favorite track on here. Aloe Blacc delivers a passion-filled hook, Blu sounds like he is having more fun than he has in years, and MED, although he could ease up on the seriousness of his tone, is also enjoying himself more. Not typically what I expect from a Madib production, but this was a welcome surprise indeed.
13. BELLY FULL (FEAT. BLACK SPADE)
Can be found on the previously-mentioned UCLA and The Burgundy. Still sounds as great now as it did on my first listen. One of the grittier-sounding productions featured thus far.
The sounds of what seems to be chickens can be found in the background of this one. Believe or not, it sounds dope. Madlib is a genius. Who else besides Gonzo the Great can get chickens on a track sounding this good? Opposite the illest bass line you can imagine, Johnson Barnes and Medaphoar don’t let a great production go to waste. Dope cut.
15. THE BUZZ (FEAT. MAYER HAWTHORNE)
The title track from their second EP of 2013 closes out Bad Neighbor nicely. Mayer Hawthorne assists the homies on this one with a great hook and bridge, over a more somber and smoothed-out Madlib creation. This one took a little longer to grow on me, but with every new listen, it continues to impress.
FINAL THOUGHTS: If there was one album this year that I would throw one after 9 P.M. while chilling with friends, it’s Bad Neighbor. Madlib is a producer who I really feel doesn’t get much due outside of Madvillian: for someone who worked closely alongside the late, great J-Dilla and shares the same sort of work ethic (wiki this guy's discography if you doubt me), it’s a damn shame. On Bad Neighbor, you find him creating truly engaging backdrops that complement Blu, MED and their great guests. While I wouldn’t rank it up there with either Madlib or Blu’s best work to date, this is a really well-crafted album that is dope and doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is good to have every now and then in a genre that causes "journalists" to write think pieces about think pieces. Sometimes it’s just good to have a project that you can have fun listening to. Bad Neighbor could have easily been some lazy cash grab, but everyone involved put a great amount of focus (two and a half years, to be precise) and effort (looking at you, Drake and Future) into it, which is evident in the final product.
BUY OR BURN? BUY!!!! While I am not declaring this a crowning achievement of hip-hop like some other Blu-related projects I’ve written about in the past, I will say this is a most welcome addition to the culture for those who enjoy the works of all the artists involved in the creation of this album and will shouldn’t disappoint anyone but the fundamentalist rap fans who strictly adhere to “real hip-hop” or “what’s relevant”. If you happen to be one of those folks, please, go fuck yourself.
BEST TRACKS: "Drive In"; "The Buzz"; "Strip"; "Birds"; "Knock Knock"; "Finer Things"
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your thoughts below.)