Album Review: Madlib – Madlib Medicine Show No. 3: Beat Konducta in Africa (2010)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Potholes
Reviewing Beat Konducta in Africa is a daunting task, mainly for two reasons. First and most obvious is the sheer amount of material present here: while digital fans of the Konducta may be used to his volumes being 40+ tracks, I’ve always opted for the separated versions. Much like the continent to which Madlib is paying tribute, Beat Konducta in Africa is a sprawling, seemingly endless locomotive of sound and vision. Secondly, Beat Konducta in Africa is not exactly a typical Beat Konducta album, and so it’s taken me a while to figure out whether I’m disappointed or not and, probably more importantly, just how listenable this release is.
If you’ve heard Madlib’s crate digging exercises such as Speto do Rua, you’re probably a little better equipped for what occurs on this disc. Th album unfolds fairly slowly, as the first four or five tracks leading into “African Voodoo Queen” and “Jungle Soundz” sound more like soundtrack music with various samples explaining what Africa is, how it came to be and where it could potentially go than hip-hop instrumentals. The samples appear to come from informative videos in the ’50s and ’60s, but one can’t really be sure. While beats remain the focus after they start appearing, there are still a lot of moments where Madlib drops in a high-life track, cues up some tour guide samples and takes a rest for a moment. Most of these interludes are interesting the first few times through the album, but like the first volume of his Medicine Show I feel they start to get a little tiring over repeated listens, and would rather he just give us the beats straight up.
However, it does seem obvious that Beat Konducta in Africa isn’t meant to be taken as a strictly beats album. This isn’t Oh No’s Ethiopium, the younger Jackson’s already covered that base. Instead, Madlib has written a love letter to his mother continent as only he could write it, covering a complex and multicultural musical history as comprehensively as he can with two turntables and 80 minutes of disc space. There’s endless amounts of the sort of funk found on “The Struggle to Unit”, but the real excitement comes when he weaves in shades of African proto-punk like “The Show (Inner View)”. Moves like that go a long way towards displaying the hidden variety present in African culture, something American media all too often ignores or fudges in some way. And I don’t think there’s any refuting the stunning quality of stuff like “Chant 2”, “Obataive” and “Umi (Life)”. For the most part, Madlib definitely brought his usual quality seal.
Still, the main issue that has stuck with me since I received this album a few weeks ago is a quote from the mid-section of the disc, in which an interviewee explains the mindset of most African musicians. For them, he says, “eighteen minutes is not enough”. He also argues that the “musical masturbation of the West” has stunted its audience and musicians’ appreciation for complex and elongated musical styles. And in hearing that, I can’t help but think that the massive heft of this release not only represents the immensity of Africa, but also the eagerness and fervor with which current American musical society skims over music as though it were simply sound and not culture as well. The Bonus AFRICA section drives this notion home for me; “R” and “C” are dope but it is mostly just more of the high-life we’ve already been subjected to for an hour. I’m not sure that a Beat Konducta in Africa trimmed by 10 or 20 minutes would be so distinct and comprehensive, but I feel positive that it would ultimately be a more enduring release and feel like less of a guided tour and more like a heartfelt journey into the heart of Madlib’s musical journey. Beat Konducta in Africa is no doubt another very good release from the Madlib camp, and so far my favorite of the Medicine Show. But it’s also yet another not-quite-great Madlib record, an album with as many tiny negatives as big positives. Definitely cop, but understand what you’re getting into.