Describing himself as "a DJ first, producer second, and MC last," Madlib is one of the many aliases of Otis Jackson, Jr., who has become one of the most celebrated, prolific, and eclectic artists in hip-hop since emerging on the scene in the early '90s. Also known as Beat Konducta, Quasimoto, Malik Flavors, DJ Lord Sutch, and the Loopdiggaz, among his dozens of handles, the unique sound and feel of Madlib's work (created without computers, using old-school recording and sampling gear) has made him a valued collaborator with a number of leading hip-hop performers, and a celebrated figure in the underground rap community.
Otis Jackson, Jr. was born in Oxnard, California on October 24, 1973. His father, Otis Jackson, Sr., was a working jazz and blues musician, while his mother, Sinesca, was a guitarist and songwriter, and his uncle was the noted jazz trumpeter Jon Faddis. Young Otis first became interested in the workings of a recording studio while watching his father at work, and he grew up soaking up a wealth of musical influences while developing a keen interest in hip-hop. In 1990, Jackson adopted the stage name Madlib when he joined the trio Lootpack with his friends DJ Romes and Wildchild. When rapper King Tee heard the group, Lootpack were invited to make their recording debut as guests on the album 21 & Over by Tee's crew Tha Alkaholiks; Madlib was also credited as a producer on one track. Lootpack had a hard time scoring a record deal, and it wasn't until 1995 that they released their first record on their own -- the Psyche Move EP -- on Crate Digga's Palace, a label bankrolled by Madlib's father. In time, Lootpack would cross paths with DJ and producer Peanut Butter Wolf, who signed the trio to his Stones Throw Records label. It was the beginning of a long relationship between Madlib and Stones Throw, which would release much of his future body of work.
By the time Lootpack released their first album, 1999's Soundpieces: Da Antidote, Madlib was already moving on to other projects; he had produced records for Declaime and O.G.C., remixed material for Peanut Butter Wolf's Definition of Ill 12", and was debuting his Quasimoto persona, in which he delivered weedian verses in an artificially high, distorted voice over spacious beats and cool, often jazz-influenced breaks. After a handful of singles, the first Quasimoto album, The Unseen, appeared in 2000, and in 2001, Madlib would unveil another project, a jazz ensemble called Yesterdays New Quintet, with the EP Elle's Theme. While the YNQ material was credited to a quintet of musicians, with Madlib joined by Monk Hughes, Joe McDuphrey, Malik Flavors, and Ahmad Miller, in fact Madlib performed all the music on their releases himself, showing off his skills on keyboards and percussion as well as producing and sampling. (This would not prevent Madlib from letting his fictive bandmates explore their musical personalities on several "solo" singles and EPs.) The YNQ recordings would lead to a unique project, the 2003 album Shades of Blue, in which Madlib was given free rein to sample and remix material from the archives of Blue Note Records.
Shades of Blue was the first full-length album credited to Madlib, though he'd used the headline for a number of singles and EPs. In 2003, he also reunited with his former Lootpack partner Wildchild to record the album Secondary Protocol, and teamed up with fellow producer J Dilla for the first of a series of collaborative recordings released under the banner Jaylib. In 2004, Madlib launched yet another collaboration as he and MC MF Doom got together to record under the name Madvillain. Despite this busy schedule, Madlib was also booking more work as a producer, handling sessions with De La Soul, Dudley Perkins, A.G., and Prince Po; he'd go on to produce material for Mos Def, Guilty Simpson, Ghostface Killah, Talib Kweli, Strong Arm Steady, and Erykah Badu, as well as remixing tracks by Jay-Z, the Beastie Boys, and TV on the Radio.
In 2006, Madlib introduced his latest alter ego, the Beat Konducta, on the mixtape Chrome Children, Vol. 2; he quickly abandoned it as a stage name, but used it as the title of a series of albums dominated by short, sample-based instrumental pieces, often built around elements from Indian film scores. In 2010 he announced a particularly ambitious project -- a series of albums using the blanket title Madlib Medicine Show, which would feature both new mixes and unreleased recordings from Madlib's archives. Madlib intended to release one Medicine Show album per month for an entire year; the first installment was Medicine Show No. 1: Before the Verdict, and Madlib was not only good to his pledge, releasing Medicine Show No. 12: Raw Medicine in early 2012, but he even tossed in an extra album to round out the project, Medicine Show No. 13: Black Tape. In 2014 he introduced his own label, Madlib Invazion, with Piñata, a collaborative album recorded with Gary, Indiana-based rapper Freddie Gibbs. ~ Mark Deming, Rovi