Collectors Corner: Madvillain – Madvillainy (2014 Cassette Reissue)

by Dustin

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Ever since we decided to revitalize the Collector’s Corner series of articles back in January, I’ve been racking my brain in an attempt to decide on the next album to showcase. I quite enjoy being able to talk about some of my favorite releases more casually and personally, as opposed to the formal nature of music reviews; however, physical media is not always the most interesting thing in the world. I adore my music collection, and have a bad tendency to put disposable income I don’t actually have into it. Regardless of this, many of the titles I own could be described in a paragraph or less. This simplicity is a wonderful thing, but at the same time it doesn’t make for the most catching of blog posts; however, Rajin recently published his own collectors corner, reminding me not to neglect this particular series. Being the stubborn person I am, I figured the best way to break the slump would be to write about one of the most simplistic releases I own. This may sound counterintuitive, but due to the album’s stature within hip-hop and grandiose sound I actually find the stark contrast quite interesting.

The album in question is Madvillainy, the collaborative effort between underground legends MF DOOM and Madlib under the name Madvillain. The particular version we will be looking at is the cassette re-release which came out under Stones Throw Records (STH2065) in 2014. This is the standard release, which has some minor changes from the Cassette Store Day release though they share the same catalogue number. The biggest variation is that the Cassette Store Day release has a shiny j-card rather than matte.

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Upon first look at this cassette it is evident that a few minor design changes were made to the original cover in order to have it look natural on a j-card. The text from the upper left corner has been removed entirely, and the orange square on the right has been trimmed into a much smaller strip. These alterations don’t take much away from the artwork, and in my opinion Stones Throw did an excellent job reformatting everything. One weird difference, however, is that the signature cover photo of DOOM appears to be slightly darker than on the original. This could just be an illusion due to the fact that his shoulders have been cut out, but it stood out as slightly odd to me. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter, as the album artwork is classic and looks just about as good here as it has anywhere else. I’ve seen cassette release adaptations go really poorly, and fortunately Madvillainy is not one of those cases.

The rest of the j-card is also quite minimalistic. Taking a look at the side spine you’ll find the album name and not much else. Around the back it simply says that group is called Madvillain, Madlib did the beats, DOOM did the emceeing, and Stones Throw released the record (in addition to the catalogue number). This serves as the credits portion of the release, weighing in at a whopping eight words. The interior of the j-card has a black and white photo of Madlib with his face partially obscured by a piece of production equipment. That is essentially all there is to see as far as the external packaging goes. It’s basic, but it looks great.

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The cassette itself seems barren (even under-designed) at first, but after taking a closer look at it I realized it is actually quite the unique piece. The tape is housed inside a colourless clear shell with black liners, which in itself does not sound like anything particularly out of the ordinary. If you take a closer look at the liner though, there is a triangular notch cut out of the top which is a shape that I have never personally seen on a cassette before. The black liner is also being used to provide a contrasting backdrop to the white text stamped on both sides of the outer shell, and makes the font pop excellently. It’s a very small design choice, but it adds a sense of flair that would not have otherwise been there. I personally adore it.

The sound quality is about as good as you’re going to get from a cassette, which still isn’t amazing, but it’s certainly passable. I noticed relatively little background hiss, which doesn’t seem to be a frequent issue on newer cassettes anyway. The quality control is appreciated nonetheless.

To summarize, the 2014 cassette reissue of Madvillainy is an exercise in minimalism done correctly. The aesthetic offers few clues as to how the album is going to sound, yet it also compliments the music very well. This particular album always seemed to suit the vinyl format the most, but I will say that I was pleasantly surprised with the cassette. If you’re interested in picking up one of the many reissues (as of right now Discogs lists 23 versions) of Madvillainy, I would most certainly say that you can’t go wrong with this tape.

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Album Review: Kanye West – ye

by Dustin

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4/10

A lot of things can and have been said about Kanye West. Many a think piece had found itself picking apart the socially reprehensible drivel to fall out of his mouth after he took the media by storm this year in a whirlwind of foolishness. Though the social impact of his ignorance is certainly an interesting topic, it has seemingly worked its way into every single review on the planet. Clicking on any discussion about his recently released ye album, and one is likely to spend more time reading political views than anything related to the music. While Kanye certainly has made himself an impossible character to wish to support, ye is for all intents and purposes a major release from one of hip-hop’s most prominent figures. For that reason alone, the music deserves to be analyzed as actual music, and not the ramblings of everyone’s favorite pariah.

With that out of the way, let’s reflect on Mr. West’s eighth solo effort.

It’s not often that the production on an album dwarfs the presence of the emcee, but this was absolutely the case with ye. Luckily for himself, Kanye can lay claim to the instrumentation on this record as well. For years, Kanye West fans have been clamouring for the controversial figure to go back to his roots of chopping samples and banging out killer instrumentation. Not long prior to the release of ye, he offered up some promising (and genuinely very good) instrumentals on Pusha T’s DAYTONA. Moving onto this project, he surprisingly kept that momentum going. The beats were good. Nothing stood out in the same way that “Santeria” did on DAYTONA, but it was some of the best production work Kanye has rapped on since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. There was a nice blend between his signature soulful sample style from back in the day, and his more modern wavy, synthetic, bass heavy sound. It was all quite pleasing to the ear, and set the album up for what should have been an easy home-run if he could keep up on the mic; however, that didn’t really happen.

In other words, ye was an album that would have been better served to be a beat tape. Kanye proved to be his own worst enemy, as his backdrop outshone the lackluster spotlight.

Being that he has never been the most talented writer in the world, Kanye has relied pretty heavily on his charisma and personality behind the mic. Even on his weaker projects he came across as an eccentric, and there was something infectious about it. His vocal performances on ye were odd, as they lacked any semblance of this spark. Yeezy seemed disinterested and it was difficult to engage the music when he carried himself as entirely uninvested. It should be mentioned that there clearly was an attempt on Kanye’s behalf to come across as a more introspective and thoughtful writer; however, this manifested itself in tracks such as “I Thought About Killing You” and “Wouldn’t Leave,” which were extremely groan inducing and difficult to sit through. In addition to that, the adventures into braggadocio did not carry any sort of weight, as his lack of charisma couldn’t lift the mediocre writing. Regardless of the topic, most songs on here felt like gutless and redundant rehashes of things that he’s already done a hundred times in the past.

Actually, imagine the rapping on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Now imagine that rapping with every last drop of energy sucked out of it, leaving only the bare bones of its design. That is essentially how Kanye came across on ye. Not horrendous, just unbearably dull.

Side note, the mixing was bad. Really bad. Mike Dean has been a bit of a disaster in the technical department for a long time, and ye is no exception. Everything was muddied out, resulting in the album sounding amateurish and unfinished. For a major release, the audio quality was downright shameful.

Acknowledging Kanye’s tumultuous negative media presence wasn’t really required to walk away from ye feeling entirely empty. Though many reviewers rating it poorly have chosen to focus mostly on his personal volatility, the album from a musical standpoint offered very little to be excited about. It was encouraging to hear him knocking out enjoyable instrumentals again, but at the same time his rapping showed little improvement from the nosedive it took on Yeezus five years ago. While one would have hoped that dialing back to a 20 minute run time could have helped Kanye release a more focused product, ye felt just as rushed as The Life of Pablo in most respects. Unfortunately, it was also a lot less interesting. The manic energy of his last two projects was not to be found; instead, the final product had little identity, and felt like nothing more than a placid celebration of boredom by an artist who left his prime long ago.