One of the first hip hop releases of 2009, and it turns out to be one of the most difficult to discuss. Why? Because there are so many different contexts in which to listen to this album. Do you discuss it in terms of other volumes of the Beat Konducta series that Madlib has been engaging in? Do you discuss it in terms of other instrumental hip hop albums? Do you dare touch it in terms of a tribute to fellow producer and friend J Dilla? I think the inclination of those that know the story of the tragic loss of J Dilla to complications from TTP and lupus in 2006 and his release just days before his death, Donuts, is to make an unfair comparison between this release by Madlib and that album. While Madlib and J Dilla were good friends who collaborated together (Jaylib, anybody?), they are two different people. This album is a tribute to a good friend, it is inspired by him, but it is not J Dilla, and it is not being made under the circumstances that Donuts was made.

That said, what is this album? Is it any good? What am I getting myself into? On the most basic terms, this is an instrumental hip hop album with very short tracks (the longest comes in at a whopping 2:23) that is not meant to be listened to one track at a time, but as a fluid piece. At least, that’s how I see it. I mean, one track on its own isn’t bad, but I don’t know that playing one track for a listener would allow them to understand what Madlib is doing. It’s really all about juxtaposition here - how do the elements of one track flow into the next, and how is the bigger picture painted? As with most Madlib, it’s about building on a mid-tempo groove, which he can find in almost any area of music he ventures into, whether it be jazz, dancehall, soul, or any other type of music fits his mood (Bollywood, for example), along with any found sound that piques his interest. Sometimes it’s a natural groove, sometimes the samples and beats turn against each other, causing tension, but the tension usually resolves itself. Not because Madlib gives you an easy out, though, but because he’s already a step ahead of you and knows that some pieces that don’t naturally fit together at first can actually congeal into something really interesting, and can elicit some really interesting emotions from the listener.

So really, what we have here is an intellectually challenging and emotionally rewarding album of instrumental hip hop from one of the underground’s most prolific producers. Would Dilla be proud of his friend’s work? Hell yes. This is an album worth getting lost in.