Having an album entirely crafted by one producer can bring out the best in a lyricist and make the product more marketable as a whole. Not many producers can claim to understand this concept more so than backpacker-favorite, Madlib, whose projects with J Dilla, MF Doom, Percee P, Talib Kweli, and most recently Strong Arm Steady have all been impeccable and have made him one California’s most sought-after independent artists. From the slums of Detroit comes Guilty Simpson, whose no-nonsense flow embodies the spirit of the city he calls home. Although his previous release, Ode to the Ghetto, featured a plethora of producers, some of the most standout tracks were produced by Madlib. Being on the same record label, Stones Throw, and having a gigantic influence in different spectrums of the underground culture, it seemed only natural that Madlib and Simpson hooked up for a full-length release. OJ Simpson manages to tap into two distinct niche market places; the backpacker, underground rap community and the Madlib fan base. Arguably Ode to the Ghetto was both critically and commercially successful because of the hype surrounding Simpson’s debut amongst Hip Hop heads, as Dilla reveled in his hard-body flow, or quite possibly because it was released on Stones Throw, which is a rarity in this day and age, as the label itself has a rabid fan base. Likewise, Madlib has an abundance of fans who eagerly await each one of his twenty-something instrumental projects. ‘Lib has managed to tap into the eardrums of Hip Hop heads and hipsters alike by formulating a distinct style of production that is hard to emulate and reigns supreme throughout the course of OJ Simpson.
From the time OJ Simpson opens with its “Prelude,” it’s obvious that Madlib is behind the boards as the production sounds like something you would hear on a Quasimoto album. This reiterates the distinctness of ‘Lib’s production, which relies heavily on low-key jazz loops and scattered vocal samples which are prominent on both of his releases on the Quasimoto moniker. It’s two tracks in when we finally hear Simpson’s discerning vocals unleash a barrage of battle raps (I’ve seen babies more threatening“). The funk sample used is reminiscent of “2 Brothers From the Gutter,” also produced by Madlib . Both tracks include a minimalistic vocal mumbling on the hook, which has become trademark to Madlib’s production style. Simpson drops enough short quotables on “New Heights” to leave a deejay’s hands bleeding. Over the production, Guilty drops each bar as if he mathematically planned his timing while maintaining perfectly laidback delivery. Guilty switches gears and provides his perspective on ghetto kingpins whom he calls his childhood “idols.” On “Karma of a Kingpin,” Simpson recalls how these hustler’s “cheddar would bring a plethora of bad hoes/mad clothes, cash, gold.” Nostalgically narrating his boyhood experience of witnessing neighborhood men earning figures, Guilty reflects on his lack of concern as to where their money came from, instead choosing to admire these crack dealers for their ostentation as well as their generosity to poor families. At this point, Guilty strays away from Madlib’s typical positive vibes and heads to the dark side on “Coroner’s Music.” Relying on a synthesizer sample, Guilty monotonously delivers vicious bars such, “guns at your temple for a moment of clarity/there’s no preparing me please/I’d rather be a corpse than compared to these wack emcees“
It’s worth noting that by this point we are experiencing a full-on Madlib Invasion with the introduction of the fifth instrumental interlude. This reiterates my point of attempting to draw in fans of Madlib’s Medicine Show, whether purposeful or coincidental. Afterwards, Guilty gets us “Back on the Road Again” as he proceeds to deliver simplistic bars over a unique female vocal sample. Madlib’s production basically carries this short track as Guilty does little to separate himself from every other emcee in the game. “Hood Sentence” features an intricately layered funk sample over percussion that sounds straight out of Africa. Simpson redeems himself with well construed multisyllabic battle raps like, “bon a petit, I go at you street with aggression/the same way I go at a beat and wreck sessions/then shoot a load on your freak at Best Western.“ Guilty Simpson pays tribute to his homie, J Dilla on “Cali Hills” as he recalls idolizing the late-producer/emcee and having J actually reach out to him to collaborate. After being taken under his wing, Guilty reflects on the last time he would see his friend, narrating when he signed to Stones Throw and Dilla flew him out to Los Angeles to record. This is easily one of the standout tracks on the record and is definitely a gem for any J Dilla fanatic. The beat knocks on “Scratch Something” featuring Frank of Frank n Dank, who basically overshadows Guilty on his own joint. After yet another interlude, Strong Army Steady jumps in for another collabo track. “Outside” features one of the worst efforts on Madlib’s behalf that I ever heard. The production is comparable to industrial music sans percussion. Unless you enjoy loud screams, repetitive samples, and soft-hitting drums, skip this track. Oddly enough the OJ Simpson really picks up shortly before its end. Guilty Simpson returns to the D on the aptly-tilted “Mic Check 313.” Starting with a dope string sample and eventually cutting over into an Afrika Bambaataa-esque beat, Guilty is able to utilize his knack for braggadocio-laced battle rhymes. Guilty continues his onslaught of battle raps on “Trendsetters” where he declares that he sees “more Big faces than a Bad Boy portrait/I’m a hell of a guy/me wack, before that you might see an elephant fly.”
Overall OJ Simpson demonstrates that Guilty Simspon’s main objective was to develop a soundscape for the listeners, which is evident from the long interludes included throughout the course of the LP. Guilty’s already proven that he can rhyme with the best of them and now seems more focused on making a solid album that you can listen to from start to finish, which is a change of pace from many releases in the iTunes era, where you can pick and chose which songs to download. For the complete Guilty Simpson/Madlib experience it is necessary to sit back and enjoy the ride. If you’re a fan either man, OJ Simpson will leave your ears satisfied upon completing your trip; however if you’re looking for nothing but bar after bar, the journey through Ode to the Ghetto might be more suitable starting point.