Guilty Simpson & Madlib – OJ Simpson
Stones Throw: 2010
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At first glance, Guilty Simpson and Madlib don’t seem like a rapper-producer combo that would gel. Guilty talks tough and spits grimy, as if he were an incarnation of the soul of his native Detroit, while Madlib is beloved in California for his stoner-friendly psychedelic and sample-heavy beats. Put them together and you have an oxymoron: a tough stoner. So according to simple arithmetic, this shouldn’t work. Well, luckily for all of us, I’m terrible at math and spent my high school Algebra 2 class writing Jay-Z lyrics from memory and playing Drug Wars on my calculator. Detroit and California have a fantastic working relationship, from Bishop Lamont and Black Milk’s acclaimed Caltroit mixtape to the history-altering work of Dr. Dre and Eminem. OJ Simpson is another in a slew of projects that Madlib has released in 2010, though this album is the one that most resembles a “regular rap album” when compared to the Madlib Medicine Shows and Miles Away as The Last Electro-Acoustic Space Jazz & Percussion Ensemble.
OJ Simpson is arranged in such a way that Guilty Simpson and Madlib get equal opportunities to shine on their own, as Guilty doesn’t say a word until the third track. Of the 24 tracks, Guilty appears on exactly half, as the rest are interludes consisting of standup routines mixed with Madlib’s usual smorgasbord of sounds and samples that always somehow, someway come together to make something pleasing to the ear. How music comes out of that smattering of noise that Madlib’s music sounds to the untrained ear never ceases to amaze me. The extended interludes “Something Bad” and “Something Good” show both parts of Madlib’s style, as the former is mostly standup comedy with some music and the latter, vice versa. It can be a lot to ask for some listeners to sit through seven minutes of talk and instrumentals on a rap album, which leads to one of my gripes: there were times when I’d forget I’d be listening to a Guilty Simpson album. I typed “Madlib” in my iTunes search bar almost every time I wanted to spin this album. If I were a rapper, I’d want to make sure that people remember whose album they just listened to. There were also a number of instances where the beat drowned out Guilty’s raps. Whether that falls on the engineer or on Madlib or is due to Guilty’s low voice, it’s not a good look when the rapper can’t be heard on his own album. These knocks contribute to an album that feels a lot more like a mixtape.
What’s most frustrating about these shortcomings is that most of the songs with Guilty are fire, specifically “Coroner’s Music” and “100 Styles”. These songs see Madlib move toward a slightly toned-down sound and they fit Guilty’s aggressive delivery to a T as he spits crime lines like “Pusha dudes like me, my clips got malice,” which appealed to my love of punchlines and my “Stan”-like love for The Clipse. As much as I love Madlib, this album would have benefited Guilty Simpson more had the album only been his 12 songs. Instead, he’s sharing the spotlight and is overshadowed at times. I’m not saying I want to hear less Madlib, but OJ Simpson as a whole could have been better if it were mostly Guilty’s songs with only a small handful of interludes, like the ratio used on Madvillainy. “Bow Wow Interlude”, for example, stands as a pretty unnecessary 1 minute and 41 seconds, but that’s the only song that is truly a throwaway. For the rest of the album, Madlib and Guilty both go hard, but don’t completely shake the “mixtape” feel that holds the album back from reaching that “next level” that this album had the potential for.