Stones Throw, 2003
Champion Sound was originally just a simple idea tossed around between J Dilla and Peanut Butter Wolf (Stones Throw founder). In actuality, it’s surprising that the project ever got off the ground at all. As it turns out, the project eventually evolved into Wolf connecting Dilla and Madlib, and in the months to follow the two artists sent each other beats to rap over (“L.A. To Detroit”).
As one might expect, Champion Sound celebrates these two renowned producers by omitting a rich and seductive record that is as lush as it is green. Furthermore, it’s solid from start to finish, hardly losing momentum, and presents a drooling doozy of sample-heavy beats and cuts. The rapping plays second fiddle to the production, but at this point that’s the whole point of this record. What should be celebrated is the variance and differences between these two legends, as they trade punches behind the production and provide a funny commentary on each others’ tracks.
One of the best parts about the music of hip-hop is its potential for collaboration. If you break it down, hip-hop is collaboration in the sense that both an MC and producer are needed to write, record and perform a track. The other elements such as break dancing and graffiti can also be used to encourage people to work together, for a common goal, to produce art, a dance or song. There is nothing like a posse cut with a couple of your favorite MCs, each slaying the track in his/her particular style on the same song. On this type of posse cut or in a rap group, each artist is pushed to be the best they can be, utilizing all their talents for the collective. This always takes the music, art or dance to a new level.
One of the best examples of this from the early 2000s is the collaboration between producing giants J Dilla and Madlib. In 2003, under the moniker Jaylib, they released Champion Sound. This is one of those records where the beats are so incredibly on point that rapping over them seems secondary. These tracks are more than an instrumental for an MC; each track is a testament to the brilliance of J Dilla, Madilb and the art of hip-hop production. Half of the tracks feature Madlib beats with Dilla lyrics and vice versa, each complimenting the other with their unique approach to rapping and of course, beat making.
When listening to the record, the core of hip-hop production begins to take shape. The samples make use of several types of music, giving each track a distinct vibe. There are times when songs such as “McNasty Filth,” The Red,” “Heavy,” “Strapped,” and “The Official” have a weighty resonance using pounding bass, crackly snares and heavily strummed notes. At these times it feels that your head will never stop bouncing and your body won’t ever cease rocking. However, at other times there are tracks such as “Strip Club,” “Starz,” “The Mission,” “React” and “No Games” that groove hard, creating a loose, seductive ambiance. It should also be mentioned that Champion Sound is home to the best moment of any Talib Kweli show. On “Raw Shit” we hear Kweli reciting his famous call and response, “I love (I love) / That raw shit (that raw shit) / I like it (I like it) / I loves it (I loves it)” If you’ve ever seen Kweli live, it’s just too hype.
Within all of this, Dilla and Madlib draw from all sorts of songs past and present to create these various sounds. There is a Bavarian sounding jam from the 70’s by Paul Mauriat called “Melancholy Man,” a banger known as “Stomped and Wasted” from trumpet legend Dizzy Gillespie and a creepy, funk infused number from Throbbing Gristle known as “Persuasion.” The production side of hip-hop is so interesting because of what parts of a song each producer decides to sample and use. With that, hip-hop has been able to give new life to groups long past their prime and give listeners the chance to take part in research while expanding their musical vocabulary. This is the beauty of using samples as a means to making hip-hop music. Jaylib’s Champion Sound is an example of how it can and should be done. I like it, I love it.