When they rip off Will Smith (‘And doesn’t it just feel good/lovin us’) it is not done in a mean spirited way, a small part of the underground cell of MC’s that raps on the Majesticon’s project is really enjoying impersonating a mega-seller. Majesticon’s is ultimately an advanced role playing game, kind of like a virtual reality comic book, with the inestimable Mike Ladd as the Games Master. When you meet him you realise that he was always the kid in the playground that organised who was going to play good and who was going to play evil. He is the king of all imaginary realms, and he still hoards his toy collection. Mike Ladd is Peter Pan, he is always jumping around and saying ‘wouldn’t it be cool if …’ like boys do when they are talking about new hybrid MicroMachines/Spaceships/Mutants.
‘We wanted to pitch ‘Beauty Party’ to Cartoon Network. I think we should do Infesticons and Majesticons vs the Gorillaz. Everyone presumes that I was influenced by Transformers because of the Decepticons. But I actually never really watched Transformers. I’m not that into sci fi to be honest. EL-P is the Philip K Dick expert of the Hip hop world. I used to play with lego like crazy and making beats for me is just kinds like lego. Also I was really into GI Joe I had like 200 of those guys, the figures, I still got em. I had the figure of the American soldier from when the US invaded Granada, seven months later they came out with this figure that looked just like this guy who had been on the cover of Newsweek.’
Somehow I wasn’t surprised when he confessed later on ‘I’ve been writing a novel about a kid whose obsessed with toys.’ Mike Ladd is not infantile, but he does have the mad energy of a hyperactive child genius. You can imagine the atmosphere in the studio as he plays the referee. LIFE who raps on the album says ‘We all had a script.’ However, Ladd doesn’t want to seem too much like the controlling mad scientist, he says ‘Not a script but a story line, the story of the Majesticons, the characters, what each character stood for. Everyone wrote their own shit and chose who they wanted to be. LIFE and Omega flipped it the most when they did Dwarf Star party.’
Each song recreates an A-List party, with canapes of a calibre P Diddy can only dream about. Mike Ladd’s posse smooth their voices and their attitudes into perfect impersonations of the accents of the super rich. That is why a good MC is called a dialecticon – he can take on any dialect, even one of his enemy, and be equally fluent. The rhymes on ‘Beauty Party’ are sharp, targeted and arch but they seem like mainstream pop lyrics at first. The Majesticon’s project proves the range and flexibility of NYC hip hop, it doesn’t always have to be hardcore street music.
Mike Ladd is proud of the beats too. He found it very satisfying to make melodic hooks and catchy Dre/Neptunes loops. In fact he has learnt to respect the ultimate craft of pop: ‘The cool thing about doing the project was that we learnt a lot of things about music. If you are going to paint an abstract painting you might as well know how to draw. My medium is a sampler, a machine made for making pop. I wanted to make sure I was technically up to it – I needed to make sure I wasn’t a hack. The Majesticon’s album respects the serious craft of pop. There are a lot of people who do it and who are incredibly good – like the Neptunes. Cats in India learn how to play tabla when they’re children and they are not thought of as presentable until 15 years later. Really it’s the same thing with pop. These kids start listening to pop when they’re 5 and they study it their whole lives. I never studied pop like that, I spent most of my life avoiding pop!’
Mike Ladd’s solo album had lyrics so sensitive you felt he was communicating with the souls of dead poets but he points out that you can’t be that introspective all the time. One line on ‘Welcome to the Afterfuture’ said ‘I’ve talked a long with Babylon next time I’ll try silence.’ It is this emotion that has driven him on this Majesticon’s album, not to confess, not to open up his insides, but to design a clear brilliant superficial format. Why the reversal of his usual slightly painful depth, to this easy, uplifting surface ‘beauty’? Mike Ladd admits he just wanted to try something different – the message is the same it is only the medium that is opposite. It is opposite in that it is presented as light and harmonic instead of dark and dissonant, but what he is saying is essentially the same.
He says ‘You can fill people with all kinds of rhetoric but there is different side to music, when it just makes you feel good. I used to shit on that vibe a lot man, but the bottom line is if your music is playing at a house party then its likely that a couple of people might fall in love at that party and maybe a couple of babies are going to be made. And frankly that is better than people getting in fist fights.’
In case you are worrying that Mike Ladd may have lost his edge, I would argue that he is only increasing it with this experimentation and the bravery to try something new. Also don’t underestimate the scale and ambition of the Majesticons project – it may sound like it is pandering to mainstream r&b but it is really challenging it to a duel. Mike Ladd is clearly stating that he can do what they do better than they do it, and on no budget. It is also, at least partially, a challenge to other underground hip hop artists also, as LIFE observes ‘Independent artists often don’t have any structure to what they do. That is what Mike is really good at. I think people need to start having more structure in their projects, it is a good way to stop things from all sounding the same.’
There is a virulent political background to all Mike Ladd’s work – it was most evident in the Infesticon’s ‘Gun Hill Road’ but in ‘Beauty Party’ it is still smouldering underneath the glamour and the wealthy invincibility of the characters. Sometimes the Majesticons seem to represent the West abusing the third world, sometimes they seem like noveau rich r&b stars on a mission to colonise Europe with their hits, Mike Ladd admits there are many ways of reading his story ‘Its you basic class paradigm. You can fit these titles in anywhere, Infesticons and Majesticons is just a slightly inventive way to look at these social structures that are already in place. We are trying to find a more creative way to tackle some of the problems, the people doing it best like that now are Dead Prez. There are also a lot of Noam Chomsky MC’s out there, like that cat from Boston, Insight, his shit is tight.’
Mike Ladd not only studied political theory at university he also lectures about post modern political philosophy, so you just can’t accuse him of selling out. His credentials are deep, and his classes sound tough. ‘You can have a field day with F Scott Fitzgerald because P Diddy is the Great Gatsby. I’ve taught about Iceburg Slim, Cecil Brown and Paul Beatty’s book ‘White Boy Shuffle’ through Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. My kids hated me at the end of that class. It was about Panoptical policing. You end up policing yourself because you feel like everything is visible.’
If you are finding it hard to reconcile the hyperactive kid with the super smart intellectual, then you have only started to uncover the many cohabiting and sometimes competing personalities of Mike Ladd. He is an enigma and the Majesticons project is a real triumph in that it unifies all his disparate talents under one overreaching theme – the sheer vanity of the rich and famous. Mike Ladd’s capacity to create serious masterworks is increasing all the time, so we will have to await with anticipation his next solo effort. He says it has got to be pure gold: ‘It’s a lot easier to do these characters (the Majesticons) than to do my own stuff, the more personal stuff. The next album’s got to be real. Part of me will always be messing around but I was driving a dump truck all the way through college so I realised what was real and what was not.’
Wednesday 19th February @ No Fakin, Zanzibar 43 Seel Street, Liverpool.
Thursday 20th February @ Satellites, 21-33 George Street, Newcastle Upon Tyne, NE4 7HL.
Friday 21st February @ Lava, Belmont Street, Aberdeen.
Saturday 22nd February @ King Tuts Wah Wah Hut, 272 Vincent St, Glasgow.
Wednesday 26th February @ 93 Feet East, 150, Brick Lane, London.
Thursday 27th Feb @ The Rescue Rooms, Masonic Place, Goldsmiths Street, Nottingham
Friday 28th February @ Hustler, Club Iforbach, Womanby Street, Cardiff CF1.
Saturday 1st March @ La Paloma, Barcelona, Spain
Sunday 2nd March @ Dedbeat Weekender, Pontins, Hemsby, Norfolk NR30 1TB
Monday 3rd March @ The Gloucester, Gloucester Place, Brighton.
Tuesday 4th March @ Zoobizarre, Bordeaux, France.
Wednesday 5th March @ Glaz’art, Paris, France.
Thursday 6th March @ La Laiterie, Strasbourg, France.
Friday 7th March @ U Clubvenue, Wuppertal, Germany.
Saturday 8th March @ Caves du Manoir, Switzerland.
Sunday 9th March @ Ab Clubvenue, Anspachlaan 110 1000, Brussels, Belgium.
Label website: bigdada