MF Doom and Madlib’s ‘Madvillainy’ — now 20 years old — is the timeless classic album we all thought it would be in 2004

OPINION: When “Madvillainy” dropped in March 2004, hip-hop heads swore it was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and we were not wrong.

Rapper MF DOOM performs at a benefit concert for the Rhino Foundation at Central Park's Rumsey Playfield on June 28, 2005 in New York City. (Photo by Peter Kramer/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

It’s a little hard to tell because my own curated social media circles skew older and heavy on 90s hip-hop, but MF Doom — born Daniel Dumile —almost feels as relevant now as he did during his heyday in the 1990s and 2000s. I’m sure that statement isn’t fully accurate, but there are legions of podcast episodes about his impact and entire shows about his life (“Did I Ever Tell You The One About…MF Doom” hosted by M.C. Serch). Donald Glover’s hit FX show, “Atlanta,” dedicated an entire episode to MF Doom and his passing after his October 2020 death.

MF Doom, an MC who got his start in the early ’90s, almost feels timeless. His supremely unorthodox rhyme couplets and persona (he was known for wearing his signature metal face mask, of which I own a replica) fit as well in 2024 as they did back in 1999. While MF Doom was never a mainstream rapper, folks were aware of him, loved him and thus had quite a fanbase. 

Similarly, Madlib (born Otis Jackson, Jr) is an “underground” rapper and producer who, since the 1990s, has been a favorite for all of us who were, and still are, hip-hop heads. When Kanye West dropped his album “The Life of Pablo” in 2016, the song “No More Parties in LA” featuring Kendrick Lamar and produced by Madlib, was an easy standout. That was largely because of the beat and that Kanye also seemed to know what we all did, Madlib is a monster behind the boards.

Madlib’s “Shades of Blue” album — a reworking of several songs from the Blue Note Records catalog — has long been one of my favorite albums. If you were to ask me what hip-hop album best represented me, it would be “Shades of Blue.” Madlib produced projects that are must-listens, and Madlib has what feels like a billion songs and projects with a wide range of artists, from J Dilla to Freddie Gibbs to Kendrick Lamar. That’s a lot of must-listens.

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The point of those introductions was to highlight the fact that MF Doom and Madlib have long been the kinds of artists whose works were anticipated. And I would bet a large reason for that is their 2004 collaborative album, “Madvillainy,” a 22-track project released on March 23, 2004, that hit the hip-hop streets like a bomb. To call the album highly anticipated would be an understatement; a leak of potential tracks from a few years earlier had the streets talking similar to how the streets were READY for a Jay Electronica record a decade later. 

Be that as it may, the album lived up to the hype. Almost immediately, the conversations around it were “instant classic” and “album of the year.” I also remember talking with friends about not just the impact of the album, but how important it was going to be. To put that in perspective, Jay-Z had just released “The Black Album” in 2003, and the conversation once “Madvillainy” dropped was this: many of us wished Jay-Z would rap over the kind of beats Madlib provided for “Madvillainy.” The closest we got was Jay-Z’s 2017 album “4:44,” a response (it seems) to Beyoncé’s 2016 album “Lemonade.” The entirety of “4:44” was produced by No ID, and had more of an underground hip-hop feel than a more glossy, big budget chart-seeking album. And I remember thinking, finally, we got Jay’s version of “Madvillainy.” 

“Madvillainy,” though, has landed itself on almost every list that purports to name the greatest albums (not just hip-hop) of all time, a pretty significant feat coming from two underground hip-hop artists at the time. The album could be released in 2024 and fit right in with a lot of the non-mainstream hip-hop releases. That isn’t a surprise to most of us who heard “Madvillainy” in 2004. What felt like possible hyperbole at the time feels obvious now. True genius is apparent – sometimes you just have to wait for everybody else to catch up. Obviously, in 2004 the album was heavily praised and rated very well. And it sounds as fresh (though also vintage) right now as it did to me when I first popped the compact disc into my car disc-changer.

“Madvillainy” has maintained its cult-like status. MF Doom and Madlib both have prolific careers, but “Madvillainy” is a feather in their respective caps. A rumored “Madvillainy 2” never materialized, but that’s okay. The duo gifted the music loving world with a project that seems to resonate now with music fans of all stripes. As of right now, every song on the project has millions of listens on Spotify, with “ALL CAPS,”  having almost 150 MILLION streams. That might not sound amazing when compared to some of the more popular hip-hop acts, but is absolutely unbelievable considering the two artists who put this project together. 

It feels good to be right about classic material, and “Madvillainy” is just that — an album that I’m sure I will listen to until I can’t hear anymore. 

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things, drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.

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