By way of working with everyone from MF DOOM to Freddie Gibbs and Talib Kweli to De La Soul, Madlib has been the most prominent and versatile underground-rap producer since the death of J. Dilla. Georgia Anne Muldrow, meanwhile, is primarily a preternaturally talented L.A. singer whose career, between its neo-soul peaks (Early) and all-instrumental valleys (VWETO), has so many contours that she’s something of a musical nomad. So, while Lib’s and Muldrow’s careers have crossed just once before (on Mos Def’s The Ecstatic, for which Lib produced and Muldrow sang), this full-length collaboration between the two, Seeds, makes a grip of sense.
For the most part, the production here, entirely from Madlib, aligns with the imagery of the album’s artwork: celestial, sun-kissed, a little psychedelic and exotic. The title/opening track kicks off with a Stax-y sample before getting lost in a whirlwind of hammering brass and woodwind. Then comes “Wind”, which, true to its name, breezes by in a fleeting two minutes, but not before liquid bass and stomping drums morph the song into a joyous, if understated, earworm. Everything here is R&B on the surface, but tinges of hip-hop (“Wind”, “Kneecap Jelly”, and “The Few”), funk (“Calabash”), and even krautrock (the shorter “Husfriend”) show up, too. We already knew that Madlib is versatile – check out his Beat Konducta in India or jazz one-off Shades of Blue – but all the genre-blending he does here sounds startlingly natural. The guy might have come out of the womb with an MPC in hand.
Still, Lib’s glorious production aside, it’s Muldrow who runs the show here; it’s through her voice – her elastic, ever-invigorated, truly wondrous voice – that the songs unfold to full potential. (After all, it’s her name on the artwork.) At first, much of the singing seems to purposely avoid clinging to any set melody, but with repeated listens, hooks and seemingly trivial phrases materialize and stick hard (“When we’re all the same,” for example, on “Kali Yuga”). Yet more immediate songs also show up, including “Best Love”, wherein Muldrow comes closer than ever to putting together a chart-reaching, sparkling R&B jam. Not just a free spirit, she’s also a professional.
Throughout the album, lyrical motifs include spirituality and nature, but you never feel required to pay attention to what the words are saying so much as how they work and play into the atmosphere. In fact, that’s the best way to approach the whole record: Instead of trying to pinpoint source material or the exact way it came together, kick back and revel in all the joy it pumps out. In theory, a Muldrow-Madlib collaboration is almost perfect. In practice, it’s not much worse.
Essential Tracks: “Seeds”, “Calabash”, and “Best Love”