Album Review: Madlib – ‘Sound Ancestors’

On his collaborative album with Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden, the producer, multi-instrumentalist, DJ, and visionary turns what he hears into something new and revelatory. Jazz jams sit alongside volatile, sample-led beats, and The Mic’s Izzy Felton tries to make sense of it all.

2021 starts out with a bang, after the release of DJ, Producer, and MC Madlib’s debut solo album Sound Ancestors. Despite being on the scene since the early ’90s, Madlib is something of a chameleon in the music industry. Making music under different aliases, working with a plethora of big artists like MF DOOM, yet leaves us with little to no clue as to what he himself is about. However, Sound Ancestors may be the answer to some of those questions.

It may be a solo album, but Sound Ancestors does not come without collaboration. Electronic musician Four Tet has had a big influence on the record, and his sparky contribution lays in editing, arranging, and mastering the record. Madlib sent hundreds of unreleased tracks and ideas to Four Tet, who meticulously sifted through to create the final product. Despite this heavy influence, however, Sound Ancestors is primarily a celebration of Madlib’s work and an insight into the music he’s been making over the past three decades.

‘For a man that has had multiple aliases throughout his career, Sound Ancestors is a big statement from Madlib.’

The first noticeable part of Sound Ancestors is its fluidity. Every track extracts influences from around the world. From funk to psych-rock, jazz to Latin American music, it’s hard to imagine how this array of sounds would work together in one album; Sound Ancestors blends them harmoniously. The record starts with a prelude, There Is No Time – a glittery introduction. The spaceship has launched and we’re being transported into Madlib’s musical galaxy.

The Call continues this feeling of acceleration, through its sampling of the psychedelic rock track Bargain Day by Terry Britten (a great song I highly recommend checking out on YouTube). The record’s jump from glitter to psychedelia captures your attention and proves the trippy sixties a perfect place to start on the escapade through Madlib’s rich music career. Past collaborations also seem to have influenced the record, with no track saying this more than Two for 2 (For Dilla) which acts as an ode to the late J Dilla, whom Madlib worked with on the 2003 record Champion Sound.

What really brings the album together is how tracks integrate the future with the past, using samples of old music to compliment a more electronic, dystopian sound. We see this in the fourth track, Road to the Lonely Ones, which was released as a single in December last year. It’s a stripped-back track made up of repetitive drums, a guitar, and falsetto soul vocals, a reminder of early 2000’s hip-hop and R&B. At this point, we’re cruising through Madlib’s galaxy, past meteors, and nebulas, but one meteor hard to ignore is Loose Goose. This, as well as the closing track, Duumbiyay, are perfect examples of the glorious past/present fusion Sound Ancestors explores.

Loose Goose amalgamates dancehall with electronic beats and a humorous sample of Snoop Dogg saying “Fo’ shizzle, dizzle.” Thanks to Four Tet’s handy work, there is a seamless transition from Loose Goose to the next track, Dirtknock, and then again to the highlight of the record, Hopprock. Hopprock feels like a hangover – quiet, hazy, still. The recording of an answerphone captures a moment of stillness that rarely occurs in the fast pace of life unless you’re still recovering from the night before. But then Madlib pushes you out of your drunken haze and back to reality for the remainder of the song, with an energetic mix of drum beats and bass guitar. We’re then brought back down to earth with the final few songs, closing on Duumbiyay, a track sampling a group of black children living in a Harlem housing project during the 1950s. The song possesses the same glittery feel as its prelude, but the grainy children’s voices cement the listener firmly on the bustling streets of Harlem, New York.

‘Its rich playfulness does not prevent Sound Ancestors from having a clear concept.’

For a man that has had multiple aliases throughout his career, Sound Ancestors is a big statement from Madlib. The record truly encapsulates both Madlib and Four Tet’s reluctance to be boxed into one genre, creating a record unafraid to play with any sound. However, its rich playfulness does not prevent Sound Ancestors from having a clear concept, looking to the past of music to make something new. Truly an album created through the influence of Madlib’s very own ‘sound ancestors.’

Article image courtesy of 3 Pin PR via Facebook.

Written by: Izzy Felton

Edited by: Olivia Stock