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Madlib/Oh No - The Professionals Music Album Reviews

The preeminent crate-digging producer teams up with his younger brother, the rapper Oh No, for a soulful, topical, but reserved project that simmers just below the surface. 

Since sauntering onto the hip-hop scene in the mid-’90s as part of the underrated Lootpack troupe, California-based producer Madlib has risen to cult status by pledging a zealous devotion to the art of crate-digging. Over the ensuing decades, Madlib’s reclusive public persona has been complemented by a hyper-prolific discography that showcases his knack for repurposing fragments of other artists’ songs into warped and off-kilter compositions. Madlib’s also become renowned for tailoring entire albums to fit a single MC’s voice—most notably his projects with Freddie Gibbs—and it’s this setup that forms the backbone of The Professionals, the first full-length team-up with his younger sibling, Oh No.


Smartly, there’s a reserved quality to Madlib’s beats across the album. Chunky, soulful loops and boxy drum patterns become a sturdy platform for Oh No’s rapping. The bulk of the album showcases the MC’s conceptual chops and ability to pen topical issue-based tracks, but a few more cliché lyrical outings nestled in the mix give the project a naggingly uneven feel—and leaves you wishing The Professionals prodded just a little deeper into the increasingly fractured modern world that Oh No proves so adept at commenting on.

The album’s most affecting moment comes courtesy of its final song, “Dishonored Valor.” Oh No hones in on the struggles military personnel experience when attempting to reintegrate into modern civilian life—including PTSD and the ensuing reliance on pharmaceuticals—along with the power dynamics that cause them to enlist in the first place. “I got a gang of brothers that was in the military that was dishonorably discharged/Really wasn’t cut like Rambo when the shit starts,” he raps over a gnarly backdrop of scuzzy guitar and rolling clusters of snares. “I don’t blame ’em, I would have been right there smoking weed, too/Fuck flying up in sky, diving out of B-2.”

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This heavyweight moment is supported by the uplifting “Made Due,” which sounds like Oh No riffing on a wonky line from Nas’s “Life’s a Bitch” logic—“That buck that bought a bottle could have struck the lotto”—by imploring people to put faith in goals and ideas rather than scant lottery odds. “Tired Atlas” is fueled by brooding piano and musings on presidents, police brutality and identity fraud; the golden-hued loops and metronomic ticking through “Timeless Treasure” prompt commentary on a capitalist country where hospital costs cause some to simply shrug and figure, “Fuck it then/I’ll just die in the crib with this cheeseburger—McLovin’ it.”

Frustratingly, the power and pull of these songs is vitiated by moments like the title track—whose braggadocio simmers but never boils—and the lighter, more amorous outings “I Jus Wanna” and “Give N Take,” especially when the latter’s candy-funk backdrop is punctured by a humdrum booty-call tale. The Professionals winds up being akin to a high-quality, well-reported news special that keeps being interrupted by lighter-hearted segments—both have their own merits, but oftentimes close proximity only tempers potency.


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About Udara Madusanka

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