MED has always been one of those emcees whose best asset is the people in his circle. His 2005 debut album Push Comes to Shove was mostly produced by Madlib, with J Dilla, Oh No, and Just Blaze handling the rest of the beats. Those beats were the most memorable part of that album. MED was fine as a rapper then, but he wasn’t yet great at constructing albums, and his best verses tended to appear on songs by other artists (Madvillain’s “Raid” being the main example). As early as the late nineties Lootpack days, MED seemed like he would go down as a weed carrier, rapping on his friends' tracks just because he was around the studio during recording sessions.
He took a long six years to release his second album, the hubristically named Classic, but that time did him well. His roster of collaborators, including Georgia Anne Muldrow, Oh No, the Alchemist, Karriem Riggins, Talib Kweli, Aloe Blacc, and of course Madlib, remains amazing, but as Push Comes to Shove made clear, great beats and good features does not a good album make. But those six years between albums were not wasted. MED came back a better emcee than he’s ever been, riding the beat like a pro on “Flying High” and adjusting his delivery to compliment the beat on every track, and he was able to step back and craft a satisfying start-to-finish album experience the second time around.
MED’s most appealing quality as an artist remains his beat selection, but since Classic he’s defied expectations and become a rapper that actually warrants excitement when you see the word “featuring” before his name. He went toe-to-toe with Guilty Simpson at his most rugged on Quakers’ “Fitta Happier” and did the same on his own loosie “Ain’t Bragging.” He put out an EP with the amazing Blu and ably matched him on every song. On Madlib’s sprawling 42-track Madlib Medicine Show No. 11: Low Budget Hi Fi Music three of the best songs are by MED (“Cheaters (Episode #3),” “Snakes 101,” and “Real Talk” by L.M.D., a group made up of LMNO, MED, and Dudley Perkins).
Now he’s blessed us with a set of Madlib-produced outtakes from Classic. It seems that most of these songs were recorded before 2010, as a good chunk of the beats ended up being reused by Strong Arm Steady on In Search of Stoney Jackson and Guilty Simpson on O.J. Simpson, both of which came out that year. It’s a bit jarring to hear those beats in this new context after having over three years to get used to them with other rappers, but it’s a testament to MED’s post-Push Comes to Shove improvement that I didn’t immediately want to ditch these outtakes and listen to SAS and Guilty instead. “Same Shit,” which has the same beat as Strong Arm Steady’s amazing Phonte-featuring “Best of Times,” has the biggest battle in terms of overcoming existing expectations, but it’s the best song of the bunch, with MED riding the beat like a pro and allowing his voice to become just one of many appealing sounds in the mix. It’s a damn shame that there was some kind of error with the uploading and “Same Shit” cuts out halfway through.
Elsewhere, we hear MED and Oh No spitting together over the “Cali Hills” beat from O.J. Simpson (“Sleeper”), rapping acapella with Pok at the end of “Mirror Talk” much as he did on Classic closer and best song on the album “Mystical Magical,” and ripping the beat to SAS’s “Get Started” with Aloe Blacc. “Open Your Eyes” and “Thee Amazing” are probably the best and funkiest beats here, but MED just uses them to talk shit, shout out his collaborators, and intro some of the outtakes.
And then there’s “Privacy.” Most dedicated Stones Throw heads heard this song when the label put it up for free download a few years ago, and hearing it again brings up the same question that it did back then: why the hell was this left off Classic? Sample clearance issues are the most likely culprit, which is a true shame as it is even better than most of the songs that made the album. Steve Arrington, the legendary frontman of Slave and recent collaborator with modern funk maestro Dam-Funk (on the excellent Higher, from earlier this year), handles the hook, and it’s pure butter soul from the most underrated singer from his era. I would support some kind of grassroots campaign to get Steve Arrington to put out a full album with Madlib beats as soon as possible. And MED sounds great as well, of course. Now that he’s got more EPs planned with Blu and has formed the group Axel F with J. Rocc it looks as if the drought of MED material between his first two albums won’t be repeated between now and album #3. Hopefully we won’t have to wait six years for his next classic.
Just because, here are some other dope MED songs from Classic to the present.