Madlib- “Sound Ancestors” (Album Review)

Madlib- “Sound Ancestors” (Album Review)

Madlib is a legendary producer who is unanimously considered one of the best hip hop artists to ever live. This weekend, he released his brand new studio album, Sound Ancestors. With assistance from revered electronic musician Four Tet, can this entirely instrumental LP be hip hop’s most renowned visionary’s best sonic experience to date? 

Through the simple power of sound, the California producer is able to put together an experience worth a million words. From the intoxicating intro “There Is No Time (Prelude)” to the spontaneous outro “Duumbiyay,” each instrumental is built with loads of character. As usual, Madlib’s sample choices are genius, and the way he plugs various cultures, styles, and eras into one body of work is mind-boggling. While the actual samples Otis Jackson Jr. (his real name) implemented have yet to be revealed, songs like “Loose Goose” show this ability at its finest with its fusion of electric synths, a kazoo rhythm, and vocals ranging from Snoop Dogg to the Congo’s very own, Dj Renaldo. On the note of foreign countries, the Caribbean-like “Theme De Crabtree,” tribal-inspired “Hopprock,” and percussion based “Latino Negro” point to the fact that Madlib seems to have been heavily infatuated with musical elements from other cultures during his recording process. As the LP progressed, there was one factor that became increasingly noticeable. The foreign influences and almost ancient like feel haven’t just been used to put together some intricate instrumentals; they have been purposely placed to underline a message that’s much deeper. Highlighted on “Sound Ancestors,” this sonic journey tells a story that showcases the roots of music and how it’s been adapted, attacked, and tarnished over time. The crying flute at the end of the self-titled cut personifies this, and with the small but potent presence of authoritative speeches like Busta Rhymes’s on “One For Quartabê/ Right Now,” these ideas are expanded upon. Between the rhythmic choices and minor vocal insertions, it’s evident that the themes of this project are very subtle, but as we uncover more and more, Sound Ancestors true meaning becomes apparent. 

When it comes to Madlib’s mastery looping skills, moments such as “Road Of Lonely Ones” show the 47-year-old take a 10-second vocal rendition and rapidly flip it over his organically engineered drum patterns to keep listeners on the constant edge of their seats. This is an art that Jackson has been a proven master of for decades, but somehow songs like the blaring “The New Normal” are still exciting. On the contrary, for the first time in ages, a few of these sonic pallets did get a tad boring. “Riddim Chant” was honestly a snooze fest due to its minimal sampling and redundant baseline, but what truly sinks it in the water is its supporting details and atmosphere, which reek of staleness. Fortunately, this is the only real moment of failure, and it’s quickly forgotten, with its following tracks being as intricate as the soulful “Chino” and jaw-dropping as “Hang Out (Phone Off)”. Although the handful of traditionally sounding cuts like “Dirtknock” play their cards pretty safe, Four Tet’s electric vision makes significant strides in the experiences ladder half. “Two for 2- For Dilla” demonstrates this at its peak as Madlib’s usual patterns are taken and spruced up with warping dramatic turns and unexpected abrasive tone changes. Overall, these two make a great team, and putting him in the passenger’s seat is what lets “The Call” take a classic hip hop beat and grow it into something that will be remembered for a long time. 

In conclusion, Sound Ancestors is a beautiful 41-minute journey of knowledge and excellence that only makes Madlib’s Goat case even stronger. Almost every moment here is top-notch, and between the fusion of Lib’s signature instrumental patterns and Four Tet’s electric coating, the final product is amazing. Between his Westside Gunn collaboration Gunnlib, potential third project with Freddie Gibbs, and even a joint venture with Pusha T, 2021 is supposed to be a busy year for Madlib, so for him to start off with something like this makes me even more stoked for the future!

Rating: 7.4/10


  • Madlib’s production is still top-notch
  • Four Tet’s electric influence adds something new and memorable
  • Interesting concept behind the project


  • A few instrumentals are kind of dull

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