Legendary Hip Hop producer Madlib collaborates with his brother Oh No for The Professionals, an album where Oh No raps over familial beats, crafted from a diverse range of jazz, funk and soul samples. Madlib’s ability to tailor his instrumentals to the rapper he is working with is apparent here more than ever – maybe something to do with a fraternal connection. Oh No’s lyrics discuss some important issues with maturity and reflection.
For me, the Standout track is ‘Superhumans’ in which featured Chino XL and Elzhi posture about their supernatural abilities over beats of futuristic, interstellar quality. This is the least reserved point on the album, but what follows is more reflective and topical. From here on, Oh No has a lot to say.
On ‘Buggin’, Oh No brags about his access to beats by the most renowned producers in hip-hop (those of Pete Rock, DJ Premier, RZA, J Dilla etc.), and ponders the privileged yet vulnerable position this places him in. He explains how to navigate the music industry with care, yielding profits but never at the cost of artistic integrity.
‘Timeless Treasure’ reflects on the injustices of the US healthcare system, the way it disadvantages those already struggling (“hospital costs way beyond what you could settle”), and how this relates to the opioid crisis and overreliance on prescribed drugs. ‘Make Due’ is more hopeful. On this song, Oh No encourages the listener to carry on pushing towards their dream, even if they are down on their luck, as it could be just around the corner. He raps over esoteric beats that could be leftovers from Madlib’s Beat Konducta in Africa project.
‘Oh No’ uses the image of Greek Mythological figure Atlas on the song ‘Tired Atlas’ to evoke, simultaneously, the world’s exhaustion and his own weary sense of having to bear that exhausted world on his shoulders (like Greek titan Atlas).
Dishonored valour is perhaps the most interesting topically. Here, Oh No draws on personal experience to paint a picture of the fate that befalls discharged army veterans, affected by mental health issues (like PTSD) and subsequently pulled into a cycle of prescribed or illicit drug use as a coping strategy. He also questions how much choice military recruits have in joining the forces in the first place.
In summary, Oh No raps about some topics of interest and controversy with wisdom and reflection layered over expertly selected beats. The obscurity of his samples attests to the vastness of Madlib’s musical knowledge, ranging from 70s French funk to rare African sounds a normal listener would otherwise never get to hear, yielding an excellent project.
Image: Carl Pocket via Flickr