On paper, it’s one of the most intriguing musical matches in recent memory: Strong Arm Steady and Madlib. Yes, we’ve already heard the Gang on Lord Quas’s production (“The Function”), but could their inherent west coast chemistry translate across an entire album?
The answer is a resounding yes.
In Search of Stoney Jackson is a funky mission that lives up to lofty expectations. It’s a Soul-filled sojourn that hearkens back to the utopian days when a single producer and emcee/group combined to make music, not simply disjointed phrases over mismatched beats from seemingly a thousand chefs. We recently saw how mutually beneficial this relationship can be over a full-length in Fashawn’s Exile-helmed debut, Boy Meets World.
According to Stones Throw, J.Rocc secured hundreds of Beat Konducta concoctions from which SAS trio Phil Da Agony, Krondon (and less involved-this-time-around Mitchy Slick) could pick. The result is 16 tracks and four instrumental interludes that have that distinct Madlib texture without becoming redundant or repetitive. Mr. Jackson has long been king when it comes to this trait – crafting beats that are unique enough to stand alone, but each retains a subliminal signature informing the listener of the Invazion.
And SAS and the (many) Stoney guest stars sound very much at home over the production. The album boasts concepts and emcees who can get their points across in skilled fashion. The soaring opener “Best of Times,” tackles the increasingly-bleak economic picture, with nuggets like this courtesy of Phonte of Little Brother: “It make me think about the loot I shell out / If times get tight, will the shows still sell out / Po’ folk need help, they call it welfare / But rich folk need help then they call it a bailout.”
The aptly-titled “True Champs” is perhaps the LP’s best track; a vicious posse cut featuring Montage One, Evidence, Oh No and Roc ‘C’ that highlights hungry rhymes and Madlib’s drum work and Spidey-sense of sampling. While Stoney is impressive throughout, other standout songs include “Pressure” (with a strong Sick Jacken), “Get Ya Money Right” (featuring Defari), “Needle in the Haystack” (featuring Roscoe and Guilty Simpson), “Ambassadors” (featuring Planet Asia and Chace Infinite) and “Two Pistols.”
As you can see there are plenty of guest appearances. This makes Stoney feel more like a Madlib album than a SAS effort – the crew at the heart of the offering seems to get lost in the mix a bit. But as I said earlier, every emcee brings something to the table, so it’s not like the heavy roster causes any significant damage to the overall project. Phil and Planet Asia deserve special recognition as they blistered every track on which they rhymed. Phil’s super-aggressive, reckless style have made him an underground favorite for years and his effort on this album will only serve to increase his visibility.
In Search of Stoney Jackson is another Stones Throw gem mined by their incomparable in-house Konducta. It’s a funky ride to Rap’s far side in a car fabricated by Madlib, commandeered by Strong Arm Steady and a slew of able narrators.