Disguised Rappers Fight Crimes of Hip-Hop Normality

Madvillainy is an outlandishly imaginative collaboration that, on the surface, sounds like the goofy machinations of two weirdo comic-book characters undergoing an identity crisis. Daniel Dumile's costume takes the metaphor to new heights, though: The Long Islander raps with a metal mask over his grill to conceal the early-'90s "disfigurement" he suffered from the industry as Zevlove of 3rd Bass-affiliated KMD. Oxnard, Californian Madlib's transformation into a strabismic hunchback called Quasimoto, meanwhile, is achieved through mechanical manipulation: He sounds like Eminem on helium.

What makes Madvillain better here than on last year's Champion Sound is the built-in theme: namely Marvel Comics icon Dr. Doom, a persona Dumile has assumed for years. Crime-fighting radio-serial samples provide a suspenseful storyboard, upon which Dumile exacts revenge befitting a forsaken genius. And although he's not the greatest lyricist, like his namesake he possesses an uncanny ability to slip phantom-like into your psyche with subliminal phrases and sardonic punchlines. Listening to him rhyme over accordion is like trying to crack ghetto code. But that's his charm—he's intriguing, unpredictable, and absolutely hook-free.

Madvillain play B.B. King Blues Club April 5.

 
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