January 20, 2020

The Professionals - The Professionals Review

The Professionals - Self Titled Review

Madlib and Oh No - The Professionals Album Review

As far as collaborations go, it was only a matter of time before the world heard of The Professionals, the new duo formulated by prolific and eclectic hip-hop producer Madlib and his brother, producer/emcee Oh No.

Released on short notice, The Professionals is a funky and swaggering swerve through hip-hop, which is less aggressive and more chill than the Eminem album Music To Be Murdered By released the same day. Keeping Madlib in this project ensures that it will maintain a cult following. Brother Oh No, rather, has maintained a lower profile, working with The Alchemist in their collaborative duo, Gangrene, and releasing sparse instrumental and lyrical hip-hop albums when compared to his brother Madlib. As Oh No has achieved relative success with hip-hop label Stones Throw, Madlib has become a legend in his own right, collaborating with the likes of MF DOOM (forming Madvillain) on their classic comic-book inspired album Madvillainy, releasing his own cartoon-y hip-hop swine character, Quasimoto, for several albums, produced with late hip-hop producer legend J Dilla, and releasing albums as a producer and even DJ with many more other artists. This album is the latest from the family and it feels great to hear the two of them come together.

The first thing to note about The Professionals debut album is the inclusion of multiple vocal snippets and the wild and busy production work that is signature to Madlib's many styles and influences. In the intro track My House, for example, there is no actual songwriting; instead it is a reggae-styled horn section and a brief and vulgar monologue to get listeners into the world of black music. It gets loud and intense and morphs into the high-synth church-like opening The Pros. Oh No makes his entrance and sounds confident with his brother on the beat. By the second half toward the end, Madlib treats listeners to other sounds and producer table scraps that are always a treat to hear. His overwhelming output creates this finesse, with multiple sounds in just a single track. Payday has a fascinating drumbeat and a choir of voices as Oh No raps about the hustle. The funky and soulful stabs that come in and out are just an example of how much Madlib's own productions are their own character in any given album.

Give N Take is a super feel-good cut with beautiful keys and a female pop group that are sampled throughout. Oh No knows how to take care of business, as he raps in the chorus, "If you can take it, I'll give it as soon as I make it girl!" Superhumans features several other rappers as well (Elzhi and Chino XL) and it has wicked DJ scratches by Madlib. Buggin is a spaced-out cut, and CDP Smackdown and Timeless Treasure bring the intensity before it slows way down for I Jus Wanna, which works as a much-needed break from the busy production and loud rapping. It feels almost like a Flying Lotus vibe, as Oh No just goes through everything he wants to do to unwind from a crazy day. Away Too Long takes the soulful route and features a beat that was previously featured on Madlib's own Beat Konducta Vol. 5 & 6, which was an instrumental hip-hop album dedicated to J Dilla (James Yancey), who died in 2006 at the young age of 32 from a long and rare illness. This one feels nostalgic personally for me, as I felt brought back to my years of playing Beat Konducta's and J Dilla's Donuts album over and over again, and for that reason, it gets extra points for feeling so special. The final trio of tracks all feature the usual melodic, soulful, and jazz-fused production that Madlib is known for while Oh No does all the beats plenty of justice.

As a full experience, The Professionals is eponymously named for obvious reasons. Production-wise, it is stellar and exemplary and it shows Madlib is at the top of his game and probably still climbing, even if it might sound a little too busy at times. Oh No takes this collaboration opportunity with his brother to the next level, and it makes it exciting to see how much further they will go with everything they've accomplished here. Casual hip-hop heads might feel a little turned off, but for any Madlib or Oh No fan, it is a must-listen.

The Professionals - 7.75/10

Recommended Tracks: Payday, Give N Take, Buggin