The highly innovative and pioneering record label Stones Throw records has put out another album in “Bad Neighbor.” This album is a collaboration between underground hip-hop artists MED and Blu, and was produced by producer Madlib, who is widely considered one of the greatest producers within the genre. Stones Throw, which has boasted legendary artists such as J Dilla, Common and MF Doom has been on the forefront of the avant garde hip-hop scene. Although the amount of talent is almost palpable on the album, “Bad Neighbour” just doesn’t live up to the expectations that an album produced by Madlib creates. His previous record, “Pinata” with Freddie Gibbs was perhaps one of the best rap albums of 2014. However, this album falls short of such a benchmark.
While Madlib’s production is as brilliant as ever, the biggest drawback is that the vocals and the production just don’t have enough chemistry. The samples are cut perfectly, the layering is bass heavy and retains a strong funk groove to it. MED and Blu’s flows, by themselves, are great as well. Blu’s and MED’s flows are good, but they are lyrically weak. It’s almost as if they are there just to create fodder for the beats. While there’s nothing wrong with that, and it’s something that Madlib already has done with his collaboration album with J Dilla, it makes this album feel unbalanced.
The best song on the album is “Knock Knock” featuring MF Doom. Madlib and Doom already have a history of working well together, with their collaboration album “Madvillainy” being considered one of the best hip-hop records ever. The chemistry that made their collaborative album a classic is present here too; the song begins with a soul sample that’s been cut, which then is layered over a funk beat. Moreover, Doom’s flow is filled with brilliant internal rhymes and slack rhythms. Beyond that, the narrative of the song is hilarious: MF Doom raps a story of how he broke into his friend’s house and ate all his food. He raps, “Menacing, cousin villain, let myself in / only need a stick of butter, cheese / and some vitamin D.” Doom is a lyrical wizard, and that shows through.
Madlib’s best collaborative work always occurs where a rapper can not only rap over his beats, but compliments them. Doom’s lyrical wizardry and excellent flow was part and parcel of what made “Madvillainy’s” beats shine. Even on “Pinata,” Freddie Gibbs’ fierce flow compliments the beats, creating a dynamic between the vocals and the beats.
However, this album does have its strong points, apart from “Knock Knock.” The last track on the album, “The Buzz,” featuring Mayer Hawthorne, departs from the funk vibe of the album, opting for an overall more soulful beat that’s reminiscent of J Dilla’s best work. The song is more downtempo, and actually works excellently with MED and Blu’s vocals. The kick drum beat and synth melody are layered under a series of excellently cut soul samples, and the unity of the track is astounding.
While “Bad Neighbor” certainly has some gems on it, and the production is virtuosic; it doesn’t live up to its promise. Given the spate of excellent albums that have come out this year by the likes of Kendrick Lamar, The Game and A$AP Rocky, “Bad Neighbor” seems entirely forgettable.