Brothers tend to have similar interests and tastes, especially when it comes to favorite sports and pastimes. Just look at Marc and Pau Gasol. They are two phenomenal basketball players, who are also brothers. Like most things, though, one brother is bound to be better than the other. Pau is a six-time NBA all-star and a four-time all-NBA selection, while Marc is a three-time NBA all-star and two-time all-NBA selection. Both excel, but Pau is superior. The same framework is true for Otis and Michael Jackson, better known as Madlib and Oh No. The Oxnard, CA, rapper-producers represent their city well, but Madlib is, without question, more talented. He is an all-time great producer who has worked on all-time great projects like Madvillainy by MF DOOM and Piñata by Freddie Gibbs, while Oh No has released very good (but not great) albums with Strong Arm Steady and the Alchemist (under the name Gangrene).
In the past, the two brothers had a couple of one-off singles that were quietly fantastic and hinted at some serious potential for the two as a dynamic duo. Unfortunately, on their first full-length collaboration, titled The Professionals, Madlib and Oh No simply do not mesh well. The vocal performance of Oh No (a great producer and a capable rapper in his own right) is not versatile enough to carry a project on his own. Moreover, Madlib’s murky instrumentals, while solid and blunted, provide Oh No with little support. The overall performance falls flat.
Early tracks like “Superhumans” and “The Pros” are prime examples of the lackluster nature of The Professionals. “Superhumans,” released as a single off the project, does everything it can to be simultaneously technical and laid-back, but it just isn’t enough. Madlib’s instrumental drones and twirls and beeps like all great Madlib beats do, but something is off. It comes across as hastily made and constantly butts heads with Oh No. The beat feels like a Madlib-Type Beat — it’s not tailored to any rapper in particular. The same complaints go for Oh No as well. He raps slow and he raps fast, but his bars and delivery never coalesce correctly with the beat. Not even a pair of features from Chino XL and Elzhi (an exceptional rapper) can provide the song with cohesion.
Something similar can be said of “The Pros,” the album’s true opener. It is a rather empty track with no intricacies packed within, lacking the attention to detail expected from the likes of Madlib and Oh No, two complex and layered musicians. Nothing lines up correctly on these two songs. Everything is slightly off, a fact that cripples the entire project, even as it begins to pick up in the second half.
On “I Jus Wanna,” Madlib brings the firepower with lovey, soul-tinged boom-bap beat and Oh No brings the bars as he envisions his perfect evening with a lover. The song is nothing crazy, but the brothers mesh so well it makes you wonder why the rest of the album isn’t like it. The same is true for “Dishonored Valor,” for which Madlib crafted a dizzying, psychedelic instrumental that provides a fitting playscape for Oh No to do his thing. Despite the late uptick in quality, something just is not right about The Professionals as a whole.
Perhaps it’s the pedigree of the two brothers. Madlib is coming off the success of his collaboration with Freddie Gibbs, and Oh No produced the soundtrack of Grand Theft Auto V and has worked with the likes of Danny Brown, Action Bronson and the Alchemist. Both men are highly capable musicians who have seen success, but maybe that’s what hurts this project. Maybe that is what causes the disconnect between Madlib and Oh No.
The Professionals feels like Madlib and Oh No are stuck on cruise control, with Madlib going one or two miles per hour faster than Oh No. Neither outshines the other, but Madlib is just a little bit ahead. Still, it’s as if Madlib made each beat with no one in particular in mind, and Oh No does his best to keep up. Collectively, Madlib and Oh No miss the mark, so it would not be surprising if The Professionals was both the first and last full-length collaboration between the Jackson brothers.