Sorry Zac Efron, there’s a new “Bad Neighbor” next door. The recent album takes the title of best “Bad Neighbor” from last year’s film. Madlib, the album’s producer, makes another convincing case that he has the Midas touch with the recent drop. Madlib has shown time and time again that he can consistently create creative beats from project to project. He is most well-known for his 2004 collaboration with MF DOOM “Madvillain.” Madlib has a wide discography of hip-hop releases from both the producing and rapping side of the game (under alter-ego Quasimoto) and has shown to be equally prolific in both. This album is no exception to that range, even though he only sticks to producing.
This project is the collaborative brainchild of producer Madlib, MC’s Blu (of Blu and Exile fame) and M.E.D. This is the first LP release from the group after their debut EP “The Burgundy” in 2013. Blu is a bit of an oddball in the music industry. His first–and best–album with Exile, “Below The Heavens” in 2007, seemed to ensure a track to stardom; yet Blu never really blew up after that. M.E.D. is a rapper that has always been just below the surface, appearing on some of the early 2000s’ biggest records such as the Madlib-MF DOOM masterpiece that is “Madvillainy,” but never taking the spotlight for himself. Despite their differences, they come together to make a casual album with amazing production that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Both Blu and M.E.D. bring their A-game to this record, consistently delivering thoughtful, reserved and casual verses. Blu is especially good at delivering verses as if he just talks like this all day. He’s just so damn casual about it. Blu emanates so much charisma that it’s hard not to crack a smile when he spits lines like: “We In-N-Out like a burger/ serving 24/7, 7-11 we serving” on the track “Serving.”
Where Blu delivers lines with a casual grace, M.E.D. flows with a voice that’s blunt, harsh and just the least bit threatening that works with verses like “Walk with a lean like I need a sprite.” The two styles complement each other nicely–without one stealing the spotlight. The only exception is on “Knock Knock,” where M.E.D.’s verse is pretty forgettable with it being sandwiched between stellar verses from MF DOOM and Blu, which is a shame because other then that, the song is one of the best on the album.
Even greater than their lyrical content, however, is both Blu and M.E.D.’s ability to find their presence on a wide array of beats from Madlib. They might be rapping over some spacy-guitars on “Knock-Knock,” traditional snares-and-synths on “Peroxide,” or a wide array of bird noises on the eponymous track “Birds;” whatever the sonic-landscape, Blu and M.E.D. traverse it like seasoned hikers.
Speaking of “Birds,” this song really is a testament to just how creative Madlib can be, without overcomplicating the song. The production of this track is mainly just some pretty standard drums and bird chirps, lots of bird chirps. The chirps are arranged in such a way that give the song a bouncy feel to it, especially when paired with Blu’s hook, “Move em’ out, move em’ out, move em’ out.”
This album would also serve well as an instrumental project. The tracks have a nice sense of flow to them. The beats start out quieter and slower at first but quickly ramp up for the middle of the album tracks like “Knock Knock” and “The Strip,” which are filled with distorted guitars and sample-vocals to give the songs a psychedelic quality for the better. Then the songs slow down again for the latter half of the album. With this change in tempo, the songs become more personal with songs like “Drive In,” where Blu and M.E.D. reminisce about movie-dates with their special-someones back in the day.
Any album can have some strong features, some solid beats and some good verse and be a solid album (Vince Staples and Tyler the Creator’s newest releases come to mind), but what truly elevates “Bad Neighbor” above a solid album is how consistent it is. All of the features, whether if it’s for a verse or for a hook, are great. M.E.D. and Blu never give anything less than 100 percent on their verses throughout the whole album, and then there’s the production. Good lord, the production. Madlib proves for the few remaining skeptics that he is one of the best contemporary producers out there in hip-hop today. It’s safe to say this is going to be one of those albums that ages well with time. The production and how they interact with the performers is so layered and dense that the listener will still be picking up on new sounds even after hours on repeat. Madlib uses everything from soul samples, guitars, drum kits, synths and even the previously-mentioned bird chirps to craft beats that are layered, smooth and work to compliment those rapping over the beats.
But, most people that take an active interest in hip-hop know about Madlib already. M.E.D. and Blu (and their chemistry) are the pleasant surprise in this album. Both are at the top of their game, and it shows. The two share a sense of camaraderie and charisma that makes it hard to turn them off once you start listening. That goes for the whole album too; once you turn it on, it’s hard to stop until you run out of songs to listen to.