Madlib’s Quasimoto project, which came to life in 1999, added a unique set of music to an independent hip-hop field that was brimming with talent in the late ’90s and early 2000s. Much of this music was referred to as backpacker hip-hop, I suppose because many of its fans moved around with backpacks on, perhaps even going to shows with them slung on their backs. Regardless of this seemingly derogatory term, the late ’90s and the first few years of the 21st century saw some fantastic material coming out on labels like Rawkus, Stones Throw Records, Rhymesayers and Definitive Jux.
At the same time the Bay Area was an amazing place for hip-hop, thanks in part to innovative DJs like Q-Bert, Shortkut and Z-Trip, and pioneering parties like Future Primitive, Mark Herlihy’s excellent events, where turntablism fused with aspects of electronic dance music, and a truly forward-looking version of the genre appeared, albeit briefly. In retrospect it’s difficult to ascertain where that energy and scene went to, and it’s sad to consider that in some ways it dissolved and disappeared due to San Francisco’s shifting and changing demographics and socio-economic conditions.
That being said, this period, this era, was a truly inspirational one. Releases like Quasimoto’s first LP, numerous productions by J Dilla and the many great tracks on the labels mentioned above helped develop a truly unique period for hip-hop. This music was a celebration the golden age of the genre, which lasted from the late ’80s to the mid-’90s. It was also attempting to relive it, but actually ended up creating another golden age in the late ’90s to early 2000s.
I feel lucky to have lived through it. To have heard the music loud in spaces full of life and diversity and to have experienced the warmth and enthusiasm of those who participated in it and contributed their vigor, friendly rivalry and admirable ambition. We may not see an era of that kind again in our lifetime, but we can always listen to releases like the one reviewed below to be reminded of how great it was.
This extremely quirky project involves Lootpack’s Madlib, Kut Master Kurt and Peanut Butter Wolf, the main man behind Stones Throw, the important West Coast indie label with a roster that includes Lootpack and Rasco. The music of Quasimoto exists in the same offbeat vein as Dr. Octagon and Prince Paul’s Psychoanalysis. What Is It? Quasimoto’s voice sounds like he has been huffing helium. This, coupled with an odd arrangement of spoken-word samples and lo-fi, but jazzy and funky beats, makes The Unseen strangely enjoyable. However, Quasimoto’s delivery also has a serious undertone, casting aspersions on black-on-black violence, drug abuse and police harassment of young, urban blacks.
On tracks like “Bad Character,” “Come On Feet” and “Return of the Loop Digga,” Ouasimoto takes his lo-fi approach to the extreme and in the process makes his music incredibly compelling. Perhaps what hooks you is the way he effortlessly mixes humor with seriousness and still keeps your head nodding. The Unseen has beats, rhymes, humor and social commentary that’s never overwrought. Absolutely unmissable. Chris Orr
Essential Tracks: (3) “Microphone Mathematics” (8) “Return of the Loop Digga” (23) “Axe Puzzles”