A DJ Takes the Stage

January 19th, 2012

Madlib – Music Hall of Williamsburg – January 18, 2012

(Photo: Jared Levy)

“Brooklyn, wake the fuck up,” the man repeated. He moved from the middle of the pack to the front of the stage. The demand seemed out of place. The crowd, mostly still, focused on each selection. Some brought out their iPhones to identify foreign songs. Madlib, for his part, barely noticed. The “DJ first, producer second and MC last,” literally danced to his own beat. With only a few interspersed comments and saluting gestures, Madlib created a thoughtful and eclectic mix.

Pulled from his Madlib Medicine Show imprint, the set highlighted his expansive grasp of music history. “Who knew rock was black?” he asked after a string of esoteric Nigerian tracks. The selections seemed designed for education as much as enjoyment. For perspective, “Crying” by the Edgar Broughton Band played after a muffled Busta Rhymes track. And there were at least a dozen more examples of juxtapositions.

But in the middle of his set, Madlib invited recent collaborator Freddie Gibbs to the stage. And, with his time, the Gary, Ind., rapper left an unshakable impression. Opening with the Madlib-produced track “Thuggin’,” Gibbs went on to steal a blunt from the audience and the room’s collective attention. He frequently rapped, skillfully, without a beat, and he reminded the audience of his gangster past (present?). All appeared to revere or at least respect his effort. For this show, he proved worthy of Madlib’s beats and time. —Jared Levy