A Week’s Worth Review: Declaime & Madlib’s “In The Beginning Vol.1”

By Daniel Paiz 

A Week’s Worth Review goes a different route this go-round, checking out Declaime and Madlib’s collaborative fusion known as “In The Beginning Vol.1.” The soundscape painted by Madlib ranges over a fluid variety of his ideas and musings; Declaime hops on these tracks to realize the full potential each song contains. While I am unfamiliar with Declaime and a slow learner of Madlib’s style, this project apparently contains collaborations largely recorded in the 1990s. Why it took this long to come out for us to enjoy is a mystery, but not one that’ll bother us for long. 

Digging into the project differently

Madlib is an artist who creates on a different level. Therefore, he deserves a review that’s a bit different than what’s been done lately around here. Cypher Sessions is all about tackling things from new angles. Covering artists who aren’t always on your radio or Hot Billboard list. This is more of that. Plus, projects that are this diverse in terms of when the music was created are a bit uncommon compared to albums all made in one particular block of time.

Themes throughout “In The Beginning Vol.1”

This project was listened to without knowing that it’s largely tunes collaborated on in the 1990s. That means that I reviewed every song via the lens of today. What makes that really intriguing is that it feels both fresh and retro at the same time. The latter feel comes through particularly in the lyrical decisions made by Declaime. The California emcee delivers line after line of showing and then proving his lyrical skill set. Madlib displays his musical versatility across a number of songs; however, there are tracks that highlight their era of creation better than others. 

For starters, Boom Bap aesthetics rule supreme from cover to cover on this collection. Tracks like “Enuff”, “2 To Da Head”, “Madman” and “Out Like Dat” all embody that 80s-90s sound, and they do so without overbearing the song. The lyrics are given breathing room. The beats and rhymes play upon each other to enhance what the listener is getting. What makes things even more interesting are the discussion of various topics.

Surviving the rap game, proving one’s skill set, and the importance of vision over bullets are but a sampling. Some get a bit existential, thinking about death, destruction and an interesting idea: society is wildin’, and yet what one can get away with and continues to get away with is appalling. “Madman” is the track bringing up these questions. “Black” and “Wake Up” do the same thing in terms of challenging the listener to reflect on the topics at hand. 

“Black” has multiple things going on. There’s fighting for rights, addressing trauma dealt with from both contemporary and historic time periods…life is layered is a good summary for this track. So many barriers to deal with for Black folks, as past and present issues are different yet the same:

“History was wrote by the hand of that white man, leaving out their real plan, insecurity made them kill the Black man, the real man, the first people of the planet, and…”

-Declaime

This is a strong verse, and not solely because of what’s being written. Instead, how well and widely known this info is, and yet how little change has come of it in spite of this knowledge, is tough to accept. “Wake Up” has a similar kick to the gut as well:

“Wake up, don’t sleep, let’s abolish the weak, eradicate (burger deep?) emcees who try to creep”

Declaime

I hit repeat so many times it’s not even funny (burger deep CAN’T be the right lyrics). This is part of a lyrical clinic, and it’s so laid back from Declaime. The lines do exactly what the title suggests; they make you pay more attention than in previous songs. It’s not like you need to dig, either. It’s more about hearing how the verses are built, which is truly impressive.

There’s plenty of other tracks that elicit reactions I didn’t expect to have. “Cool Ways” feels ethereal by the end of the third verse. “Out Like Dat” addresses gun violence; slick lines about not wanting to go out like this in his own community paints a tragic picture. Then of course there are the penultimate 90s tracks like “All Over The World” (apparently a new song of sorts featuring MED) and “2 MC 95.” Let’s not also forget the tracks meant to highlight Madlib’s immeasurable talent, such as “One on One Remix” and “Outrose”. 

Final Verdict

A collaborative effort like this that brings us such a blast from the past weirdly is hard to place. Not because it’s out of place thematically or sonically with music from 2021. Rather, it’s due to partially wondering about why there was a wait to release these songs; however, it does leave me oddly smiling at how this album competes with today’s music. It’s not meant to, nor was it released to try and make that particular point.

Instead, it’s an effort to rightly give Madlib his flowers for all the gifts he’s given to the world of music. This is two sets of bouquets for the talented musician and producer: one set for what he was doing in the 90s with Declaime and other artists. The other set is for what he continues to do today, after so many collaborations and years of audible wonder. 

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