It'd be reductive to call Madlib the last of hip-hop's true jazz believers, but it'd be close to the truth. The Stones Throw Records studio rat may have become an all-star as the cartoon monster Quasimoto and one third of the massive Lootpack crew, but he's gone hall-of-fame by embedding heat, smoke and "Lush Life" into his MPC. From the post-bop rhythm section feel of his beats and loops to the one-man electronic-fusion records he makes as Yesterday's New Quintet, the West Coast producer is bent on proving jazz's majesty in hip-hop's labyrinth -- without coming off dull or "jazzy."
As such, Shades of Blue, Madlib's reconstruction of the Blue Note Records catalogue, could've been the frightening proposition of getting that chick you've been attracted to for a long time. The first name in jazz labels has previously tried getting down with hip-hop by allowing sample-minded suitors to fumble in its tape drawers, with results that veered between yawning and flaccid. Luckily, sampling has rarely been 'Lib's aphrodisiac; so, as the title implies, his invasion is about working in the Blue shadows of inspiration, not sweating "Straight, No Chaser" for a hook.
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Madlib spends part of his time tweaking classics and favorites, tastefully adding beats, scratches and instrumental hip-hop vibe to Three Sounds' "Look of Slim" (now the original "Slim's Return"), giving trumpeter Donald Byrd's "Stepping Into Tomorrow" a heavy Philly soul, dance-floor groove. Other times, he covers songs under his numerous jazz-cat pseudonyms: The Joe McDuphrey Experience, a cut-up keyboard "trio," creates an electric haze from a medley of Horace Silver's "Peace" and Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance," and Yesterday's New Quintet's swirling three-percussion sketch of Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" is beat-happy expressionism. Standard-jazz pacing is dragged into a new age -- the continuous mix showing off Madlib's skills as collagist, programmer and historian -- finally turning the Blue Note that Madlib's uncle trumpeter Jon Faddis knew into something colorblind kids can play, too.