Madlib is a serial collaborator. From MF Doom to Freddie Gibbs to J Dilla, the elusive producer has elevated hip-hop music and shaped the industry. It might be surprising, then, that his upcoming album, Sound Ancestors, sees him collaborate with electronic producer Four Tet. While Kieran Hebden certainly draws from hip-hop breaks and loops (he has even remixed songs from Madvillainy,) his style is generally flashier and more electro-driven. But if “Road of the Lonely Ones” is any indication, the two will gel nicely for a jazz and soul inspired record.
Warm guitar and a familiar soul sample open the track, setting the stage for the lush production which follows. After the short intro, a snare roll greets the main guitar melody, underscored by a popping bass that compelling brings the track together. The lyrics ask about the curse of loneliness; they answer no questions, but gingerly console those without hope. The primary vocal sample is aided by a soulful hum which textures the melody and a wavering single note harmony in the back. The layered vocals make the track intimate, a trait which often elides producers acting without vocalist collaborators. They also underscore the extent to which the isolating experience of loneliness conceals its ubiquity. In its own way, then, “Road of the Lonely Ones” seeks to solve the problem it presents. Sure, the idea of loneliness as a universal experience is not new. But Madlib and Fourtet present the idea in a unique and exciting way. Even overdone subject matter can sound good, especially with two masters at the helm.
At any given moment, one wonders which of the two artists exerts greater influence on sound. Some choices are easily identifiable: the vocal loops are vintage Madlib, who prides himself on his crate-digging and J Dilla-esque circuitous sampling. The guitars act like a Four Tet melody retrofit with instrumentation fit for a hip-hop/R&B ballad. Other choices are difficult to discern. The percussion, for instance, could stem from Hebden’s love of jazz or… Madlib’s love of jazz. Maybe the odd pairing isn’t so odd, after all.