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Jaylib: Champion Sound

Few in hip-hop doubt the depth and scope of Madlib's talent as a multi-instrumental DJ-producer-rapper, but the way he's used his colossal gifts have sometimes bordered on the perverse. While peers like Dr. Dre and DJ Premier have worked with many of the world's greatest rappers, Madlib has worked largely with local cats he came up with himself. This year alone, he's produced a neo-soul album with a rapper who can't sing (the perpetually off-key Declaime, a.k.a. Dudley Perkins) and now, with Champion Sound, a collaborative album with Jay Dee, a producer who can't rap. On Champion Sound (credited to the super-duo as "Jaylib"), Jay Dee and Madlib rap over each other's tracks, and while that strategy initially makes little sense, it works phenomenally well for a good deal of the uneven but often fantastic album. Madlib has long specialized in crafting tracks so richly textured they make rapping almost unnecessary, but Dee's charmless boasting still hangs like an anchor on his colleague's beats. Dee manages a few bright spots on the mic, as on "The Mission," but that song's success is attributable more to Madlib's inspired DJ Premier impersonation than his partner's critic-bashing rhymes. The team of Dee on the mic and Madlib on the track only works intermittently, but the combination of Dee's production and Madlib's rapping proves surprisingly remarkable. It takes courage for any producer to lay his beats next to Madlib's, but his production actually outshines them. Dee blesses Madlib with beats for which regular collaborators Busta Rhymes and Common would sell their children, and Madlib rises to the task, spitting gloriously loopy rhymes that wouldn't sound out of place on The Unseen. Madlib's squeaky-voiced alter ego Quasimoto takes the spotlight on "React," but otherwise, Madlib uses him as an alternate-universe hype-man, a Jiminy Cricket who advises Pinocchio to visit strip clubs, smoke weed, and guzzle malt liquor. A triumph for Madlib as a rapper, if not as a producer, Champion Sound conversely makes a weak case for Jay Dee's skills as an MC, but a great case for him behind the boards.

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