Album: The Professionals
Artist: The Professionals (Madlib/Oh No)
Sub-Genres: #Abstract Hip Hop
Non-Airable Tracks: N/A
Description: Madlib has a brother. I did not know this. For those not in the know, the said brother of Madlib is Oh No, the rapping component of this producer/lyricist duo. Madlib has a long history of doing collaborations with rappers to make albums. Some of these have been very highly acclaimed albums in the underground rap scene: Madvillainy, Madlib’s 2005 collaboration with MF Doom, is widely acknowledged as one of the best rap albums of the underground scene, along with Freddie Gibbs Pinata. This is his first time collaborating with Oh No, who has also been producing albums in parallel with Madlib’s work. A quick look at his RYM page shows that Oh No’s work is apparently much less well-known than Madlib’s, but he has been releasing albums for roughly as long as Madlib has. Considering the two are related, the duo are long overdue for some sort of collaboration. In comes The Professionals.
I like to think of this album as a prime example of a very “OK” rap album. The last album to make me feel this particular “Okness” was Kanye West’s Jesus Is King, released last year. The production, the lyrics, and the flow feels very… OK. There is nothing particularly awful about this album. Sure, the lack of any features makes the hour that the album expands over a little long and monotonous, and the relative overuse of vocal samples seems to take away from Oh No’s OK lyricism, and none of the beats seem particularly special, and the rap flow seems kind of bland and vanilla despite Oh No’s attempt to vary it throughout the album, but it’s not bad.
The album still showcases a certain sort of solidness, as in, it’s a very coherent release of material. This is both a good and a bad thing, because there’s not any particular standouts on the track list. It begins with a complete instrumental, as a fair amount of Madlib’s produced releases do. I can honestly not name one particular standout or one particular fall off in the album, which makes the album even harder to review. I will say that the sci-fi/superhero nature of the lyrics reminds me of a less flow-y MF Doom and Del the Funkee Homosapien, but the beats seem to be from another generation; and to be fair, they are: it sounds like an album stuck between paying tribute to its early 2000s predecessors and its early 2010s predecessors.
For me, the first half of the album kind of falls off in comparison to the second half of the album, but that may be my penchant for political rap/rap about struggles. The first half of the album definitely displays Oh No’s attempt at creating a coherent style and image, which he does; the problem is that it’s not necessarily an original style and image. Another thing is that I don’t feel his style is not necessarily suited to Madlib’s style of beat production; Madlib works best when rappers beat his overproduced, luscious beats into their bars, not… use it. Paradoxically, Madlib works best when someone treats his beats as something to be played with, not respected, like MF Doom’s deft dancing around instrumentals with his flow, or Freddie Gibbs’ violent pounding of the beats by his intense lyricism. Oh No stands besides the beat, which sometimes leads to his performance being overshadowed by the bigger name on this album.
The beats are again, very normal for Madlib; they are quite good in comparison to the majority of the underground rap scene. I don’t think that this is a particularly terrible release, but future guidelines for improvement of the duo should be letting Oh No develop his own style on how best to attack Madlib’s beats, not stand aside it. So far, he seems subsumed in a vaguely generic identity from the early 2000s, and that sort of rapping will always have a risk in being overshadowed by the older brother on the album.
If one has a penchant for all of Madlib’s beat making, or perhaps has been an Oh No follower since the early days, I would recommend giving this album a listen. However, go in with the expectation of getting nothing more than a very generic extension to one of Madlib’s many collaborations. It doesn’t make for necessarily bad listening, though.
Base Rating: 5
Produced well by Madlib: + 1 Final rating:
Personal Favorite: Dishonored Valor
Reviewer’s Name: Abraham Aruguete
Date of Review: 02-01-2020