From collaborations with Freddie Gibbs and Erykah Badu to the late legends MF Doom and J. Dilla, Madlib has been proving its beat-making prowess for over three decades. Known for his meticulous approach to sampling – reusing and remixing sound from another recording – it may seem like the producer has developed the process of developing the perfect loop down to a science, but really, he says, anyone can do it. (Despite being one of the most influential names in hip-hop, he also turns out to be quite a humble man.) According to Madlib, sampling is simply about listening for a catchy sound to extract from a song and then chop it up , layering and distorting to create something new. It’s a process that propelled him to legend status after the release of the critically acclaimed 2004 album. Insanethe only LP to come out of Madlib and MF Doom’s hip-hop duo project.
Madlib’s egalitarian approach to beat-making is perhaps what makes his latest collaboration with Coca-Cola so fitting. In addition to debuting an eccentric EP composed of sounds from the bottle-to-bottle recycling process – to remind everyone that he can sample literally anything – the DJ has launched a free public sound library, where anyone can play beats produce using an interactive online program. However, instead of percussion or bass, producers are treated to sounds that span the grain of moving debris, the slamming of a trailer door, and the crunch of a plastic bottle.
After the launch of the program, the prolific and notoriously reclusive DJ hooked up with Hypebeast for a rare interview to talk about sound, process and production.
How did you go about incorporating the sounds of recycling into your compositions?
It was a cool experience working with Recycled Records and The Coca-Cola Company. When they gave me the chance I wasn’t sure because the concept was so different. But after hearing the sounds, I knew I could make something dope.
As far as actually creating the songs, I just did what I normally do: pick the best sounds that catch my ears and program from there. I care about the feeling.
How do you imagine your fans using the digital beat maker?
It’s easy to use, so it’s a great way for anyone to learn how to program a beat sequence — you don’t have to be a musician or producer. Everyone should give it a try and see what they can make. Sampling is an art form and inspiration can come from anywhere, including the sounds of recycling plastic bottles.
You’ve been making beats consistently since the ’90s. Can you track the progress in your sound library over the decades? How has your sound evolved?
I’ve always been open to studying all genres of music. I’ve tried to include every possible style to incorporate into my music – with no barriers. The choice of the samples used is most important to me. Even though the equipment matters, the sounds are the most important.
While most producers use computers these days, you’re known for keeping it pretty old fashioned when it comes to making beats. What does your production process look like today?
I’ve actually been using my iPad for a while now. When I started making beats I used four track recorders and cheap drum machines. But today all I need is my iPad and some samples to make an album.
You are known as a master of sampling. When I listen to your work I always notice how you use samples in the most unexpected yet productive and inventive ways. How do you go about looking for a monster?
I go to my ears when I’m looking for a monster. It can be a certain instrumentation or music from a certain year. I also like to pick up any sound or style, and just roll the dice like an MC freestyles. I just take what’s there and try to turn it into something dope.
As a producer whose discography extends beyond any sort of categorization – immersed in hip-hop, jazz, soul, R&B, the list goes on – are there any particular genres you’ve been drawn to lately?
Since the 1990s I’ve been looking for anything and everything, I don’t like putting up barriers to genres I use. I think I’ve touched almost every genre, but lately I’ve been delving into indie rock, industrial sounds and a lot of noise records. Something odd or weird. I’ve also used a lot of strange private press records.