Over the last 18 months instrumental hip-hop has proven itself more than worthy of standing on its own. Acts like Prefuse 73 redraw the boundaries of the genre while sample-only projects (like MF Doom’s Special Herbs) extrapolate sounds from sources old and new. Madlib’s latest LP The Beat Konducta, Vol. 1-2 occupies a fortunate position, successfully cross-fading between both turntable styles.Much of this album’s success actually hinges on its easily ignored subtitle, Movie Scenes. Without it, Madlib’s turntablist efforts could be dismissed as weird and disjointed. Instead, the 35 pieces on The Beat Konducta, Vol. 1-2 become the imagined soundtrack to a nonexistent street film noir full of underground clubs and underworld reps and cred.
Plenty of the usual suspects appear in Madlib’s scenes: snippets of gangsta rap, James Brown, Hendrix-like funk, blaxploitation films. Most of these grooves are mid-tempo or slower, so the biggest mainstream-sounding winners include “Friends (Foes),” a haunting girl-group message right out of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, and the adjacent “Eternal Broadcaster (Authentic)” and “Spanish Bells (High Dreams),” about as sprawling and epic as four minutes of laid-back beats can get.
“Offbeat (Groove),” appropriately enough, sounds like where Madlib started building his bridges here. He’s comfortable and competent leaving behind even the darkest hip-hop of the Wu-Tang school in favor of tuneful, narrative sound collage in the style of The Books. It’s most apparent in the pairing of the ambient “Electric Company (Voltage Watts)” and the eventually folksy “Left on Silverlake (Ride).”
The Beat Konducta, Vol. 1-2 is a release to challenge hardcore heads and thrill hip-hop fans seeking something beyond all the hyphiness and crunk. While the late J Dilla’s Donuts reiterated that you cannot have a party without soul, Madlib supports DJ Shadow’s decade-old argument that you can indeed generate hip-hop soul without a party.