Madlib’s new project, “Sound Ancestors,” is another classic album from one of hip-hop’s greatest beat makers.
Madlib is a hip-hop producer known for looping, experimental and sample-heavy beats. He has a deep catalog with collaborative albums like “Madvillainy” with MF DOOM and “Bandana” with Freddy Gibbs, and he also has fantastic solo work like the “Beat Konducta” series. This album is similar to a lot of Madlib’s other works, with soul samples and looped drums throughout, but it does have some significant departures from his usual style. It runs at a tight 16 songs and 41 minutes, and it can be appreciated as a background album due to its looping instrumentals and lyricless style. Despite this, the intricacies of the album are well worth a deeper listen.
This album is a slight change of pace from most of Madlib’s solo work, as he strays from his typical warm, nostalgic mood to a more expansive and melancholic sound. Every song is atmospheric, and many feel spacious and empty, creating a feeling of melancholic loss throughout.
The opening track, “There is No Time – Prelude” has a shifting, turbulent sound that almost perfectly depicts the outer-space style of the album cover. It pulses with staticky harmonies and repetitively ringing bells. It feels like it’s sonically moving through space and time, only to find itself at a certain period and mood with a new sample after a quick transition.
The song cuts off suddenly and shifts into the groove of a much more traditional Madlib instrumental, “The Call,” replete with a bouncy bassline and a smooth vocal sample. This track sets the tone of the album with chill looping rhythms and chopped-up samples but also evokes a certain sense of emptiness.
The fourth track, “Road of the Lonely Ones,” is definitely up there with all of Madlib’s best works. It fades in with a hauntingly beautiful soul sample, which drops out only to fade back in with the main loop, full of chopped-up vocal samples and melancholy guitar notes backed by rolling, dirty snares. The song’s chorus is described perfectly by its title: “Lonely.”
The album is a clear tribute to Madlib’s contemporaries and influences, like the late J-Dilla and MF DOOM. Each song produces the feeling of emptiness that this loss has created for the world, and to Madlib on a more personal level. The title, “Sound Ancestors,” pays respect to the influences and the history of music that Madlib often references and utilizes in his work.
This tribute is the clearest on “Two for 2 – For Dilla,” a track that is both by name and in style a tribute to J-Dilla, Madlib’s friend and one of the greatest beat makers ever. Madlib replicates Dilla’s off-kilter drum style and looped basslines, and the heavily chopped samples are smooth and endlessly interesting. The beat switches halfway through the song into a more up-tempo and full-sounding sampled style, retaining the same stylistic elements that give tribute to Dilla.
“Latino Negro” is another great track coming right on the heels of “Two for 2,” and it hits quickly with a Latino-style drum loop and a melancholy and haunting guitar loop fading in. This song is atmospheric and empty and full of complex wrinkles on a relatively simply main theme. It’s in the style of traditional Spanish and Latin guitar — another clear homage to one of Madlib’s “Sound Ancestors.”
After this point, the final four songs of the album lose some of the sonic and thematic grandiosity that characterized its first three-quarters. None of them are bad songs, but compared to the intricacies of the experimental beats before them, the album ends with more of a fizzle than a bang.
As a whole, “Sound Ancestors” is a masterful assortment of atmospheric, smooth and emotional beats and instrumentals. Each track could easily stand alone as a great beat, and as a project, it is an homage to the musical tradition to which Madlib pays so much respect and serves as a tribute to Madlib’s greatest contemporaries. Every song, and the overarching mood, creates the feeling of emptiness and loss that Madlib and the hip-hop world as a whole undoubtedly feel because of Dilla and DOOM’s untimely deaths.