Ashok Kondabolu (Das Racist) Talks Quasimoto’s Yessir Whatever

I once saw a briefly-posted video on the Stones Throw label's website of a lecture Otis Jackson, Jr., aka hyper-prolific producer/rapper/musician...

I once saw a briefly-posted video on the Stones Throw label’s website of a lecture Otis Jackson, Jr., aka hyper-prolific producer/rapper/musician Madlib, gave to a music-engineering school in California. He spent most of the time looking at the floor, rarely making eye contact with the audience, and appearing nervous (and possibly zooted), speaking pensively about his production process and music. Within the comfort of his own home studio, this same shy dude becomes Quasimoto on wax. Sort of the equivalent of the mild-mannered Clark Kent going into a phone booth and coming out a really strange and high Muppet.

Quasimoto is Madlib’s pitched-up, helium-voiced alter ego, and Quasimoto albums are the reason I decided to record my own, unreleased Winky Taterz album five years ago. There have been two Quasimoto albums over the last decade: 2001’s The Unseen and 2005’s The Further Adventures of Lord Quas. The appeal of this device for me, and why I used a similar one on Winky Taterz, is two-fold: a) I hate the sound of my own voice and b) if I use it, I can say things I’d feel awkward saying with my actual voice. Madlib mentions the influence of massive shroom consumption as his primary reason for making the records, which makes sense once you’ve heard them.

After eight years of silence, Quas is back — sort of. This latest album Yessir Whatever, is a collection of tracks recorded over the last ten-plus years, tossed together. Quas says he’s going to work on a new album of fresh material when he’s once again able to “get back on that level,” which probably means once he has time to eat shrooms all day and hang around.

The following is a track-by-track breakdown of the record.

1. “Broad Factor”
A high-energy introduction to the Quasimoto sound built off a well known sample of Johnny Guitar Watson’s “Superman Lover.” Quas raps about selling weed and having sex with girls with his typical braggadocio and absurdity: “You got sexed up, and guess what, I’m the one that hit it/You won’t neglect it ’cause my jim be employing paramedics” sounds downright novel coming from a pitched-up, oversexed muppet.

2. “Seasons Change”
Built from a Roy Ayers sample Madlib couldn’t clear for his last album. I always preferred the higher-energy Quas cuts like “Fatbacks” and “Privacy” (both from The Further Adventures…). The slower stuff always kind of bored me and served as a showcase for the more weeded-out positive vibes aspect of the Quasimoto universe. I prefer the songs where Quasimoto serves as the devil on Madlib’s shoulder, the two of them wheeling out of precarious situations. But, after all, this is a California-born record.

3. “The Front”
A typical, bouncy and jumbled album cut ending with a bizarre, obscure sample. This is music to listen to on a long bus ride. That is the ideal place to listen to Quasimoto albums — you can stare at a wide cross-section of people and place them into the narrative of the song you’re listening to. Public transportation is a mood heightener, the extended sharing of confined spaces can verge on surreal.

4. “Youngblood”
This is barely a song, just a beat with some Madlibisms tossed over it: “I got to get a watch cause I’m never on time/like when I bought that whole case of Coronas and forgot lime.” It’s just a “sketch,” and it ends with another weirdo sample over some upbeat drums.

5. “Astronaut”
Shroom rap, filled with advice and a super Madlib staple: Melvin Van Peebles samples. Quasimoto semi-raps, “Who wants to be full of regrets when old father time taps?” It’s words of wisdom and life advice alternating between drugged-out sex-raps, a balancing act that is the driving force and vitality of Quasimoto albums. The dialogue here encompasses a wide spectrum of human thought and experience, as if Madlib created the Quasimoto character just for that purpose.

6. “Planned Attack”
One of the strongest cuts on the album, with Brand Nubian and Jeru the Damaja samples scratched into an introspective downer of a beat. The back-and-forth between Madlib and Quasimoto shows their vs at full-strength. Madlib isn’t afraid of space, and the gaps he leaves between verses (usually filled with scratches, samples, or just letting the beat ride out) give the rapping that much more impact.

7. “Brother’s Can’t See Me”
A straightforward cut, considering this is Quasimoto. The song title is a scratched-in Diamond D vocal, but this song doesn’t really gel with the rest of Yessir Whatever. You can tell why this wasn’t on earlier albums — it’s mostly forgettable.

8. “Catchin’ the Vibe”
Free-associative rap attack from Madlib with little Quasimoto to be heard. Features the incredible line “You keep it phony like Kevin Mahoney.” I have no idea who that is, but it’s great anyway. This song is mostly about smoking marijuana — “Always got the orange hairs when it’s time to bless/ I guess that’s why always I’m on a higher plane,” no kidding— and is a “head-nodder,” to use that corny term.

9. “Am I Confused”
Madlib only partially pitched up his voice this time around, so the verse sounds kind of creepy. He ponders life’s larger questions, from racial profiling and crack to stressed girlfriends who aren’t going to be happy when they find out he’s got kids. He also talks about somebody dying after smoking three packs of cigarettes a day, rhyming “breakdancer” with “cancer.” I feel cigarettes don’t get rapped about enough (shout-out to Billy Danzini’s “I smoke too many cigarettes” from Face Off), so this warning story was appreciated.

10. “Sparkdala”
The longest cut on the album is, fittingly, a testament to the benefits and mechanisms of weed smoking. The beat is pensive and creepy in the best way. I don’t smoke weed, really, but this got me thinking about why I like these albums so much: Madlib/Quasimoto likes to smoke weed so much and talk about it so often that I feel I don’t have to. I really believe they’re smoking for the both of us. The song trails off into almost a full minute of shout-outs.

11. “Green Power”
A spare song built off a gloomy organ sample and some drums. I’m not sure what he’s talking about, something about green being the color of money and weed, and that means a lot? This song is boring.

12. “LAX to JFK”
A flip of Gangstarr’s “JFK 2 LAX” with the same Supremes sample. One of the stronger lyrical efforts on the album, this also features two weird and bouncy beat freak-outs, high-BPM spaceship freakniks following the choruses, and ends with another Madlib staple, the blaxploitation movie sample, over a long beat rideout.

Yessir Whatever is obviously intended for Quasimoto die-hards and as such probably won’t serve well to convert new fans. Considering the album’s tracks are culled haphazardly from nearly a decade’s worth of work, the album is built well enough — he obviously has a lot of deep cuts to work with — and does remind fans of one of rap’s more bizarre, unique, and interesting side-projects and tide them over until the next, true adventures of Quasimoto. Or maybe I’ll finally release my own album, who knows.

Ashok Kondabolu, aka Dapwell, was born in Booth Memorial Hospital (now Flushing Hospital) in 1985. He plans on living on a communal farm when the world economy collapses, although he is a former member of rap group Das Racist and lives in Brooklyn. You can follow him on Twitter here.

Photo credit: Holland Brown