Release Date: Jan 27, 2010
Record label: Stones Throw
Give a man a beat and he’ll rap for a day. Give three men their pick of two hundred Madlib beats and a guest roster of hip-hop stalwarts and you’ve got Strong Arm Steady. Solid, workmanlike rhymes abound, but a shortage of mind-blowing moments is tempered by the absence of mediocrity. There’s room for improvement—just not enough to pass this up.
Finding patterns in Madlib's rambling yet brilliant production work can be difficult, but on his new In Search of Stoney Jackson album, he doesn't take long to zero-in on some recurring themes. An obscure sample ushers in "Chittlins & Pepsi", a stick-to-your guts blend of flashy soul and food-based free association. Meanwhile, pot ramble "Cheeba Cheeba" is anchored by resonant strings and a fluid bass line inhaled and exhaled between minimal beats.
“A telegram for me sir? What does it say?” The first half of this decade’s underground rap scene seemingly belonged wholly to Madlib. Whether it was his Beat Konducta tapes, the Mind Fusion series or his collaborations with MF DOOM, J Dilla and Dudley Perkins to name a few, fans came to expect both certain levels of prolific production and quality as well. While the quality has refused to falter, Madlib’s 2008 and 2009 were relegated to a few high profile placements like Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah and DOOM’s Born Like This, as well as two new installments in the Beat Konducta series.
They must have forgotten to write Madlib’s name on the cover. The MCs in Strong Arm Steady make up for it by constantly reminding the listener that the album isn’t just an SAS album with a single producer; it’s a collaboration. Phil The Agony works the idea into “Ambassadors,” repeating, “This is a Madlib Strong Arm Steady connect” during each chorus, as if the album’s vitality depended on it.
This record might as well be called Why Hip Hop Sucks in 2010. It could have been, it should have been, so good; the very reason to pull on your three stripes with pride in the morning. Some dope shit to fling back in the faces of the scoffers, those that told you Wu-Tang was the high watermark for West Coast Rap and, indeed, that hip hop itself passed away around the same time as B.I.G; P-Diddy doing a sick little shuffle over both their graves.