It used to be easier to pretend that an album was its own perfectly self-contained artifact. The great records certainly feel that way. But albums are more permeable than solid, their motivations, executions and inspirations informed by, and often stolen from, their peers and forbearers. It all sounds awfully formal, but it’s not. It’s the very nature of music — of art, even. The Six Degrees features examine the relationships between classic records and five other albums we’ve deemed related in some way. In some cases these connections are obvious, in others they are tenuous. But, most important to you, all of the records are highly, highly recommended.
AraabMuzik makes hip-hop that, heard from any other vantage point, sounds nothing like hip-hop. He made his name as a producer for the credentialed likes of Cam'ron and Jim Jones, but the tracks on his own debut album sound more like...trance? Phantasmagoric pop? Accidental overlays resulting from different YouTube-playing browser windows fighting to be heard, at once? It's a strange sound. But it's also immensely appealing and approachable, as evidenced by an opening track, that sounds like something wafting in from a celestial radio station that you happened upon while fantasizing about warm turquoise beaches and expensive moisturizer. That song is a good example of the trance element that figure into much of Electronic Dream and its suggestively reworked samples of tracks crafted for glitzy dance clubs. "Streetz Tonight" sounds like an anthem longing for vocals by Kylie Minogue, and a host of widescreen ambient washes and strobed sound-effects abound.
But AraabMuzik is dark, too, especially as the album soldiers on and details of its tweaking begin to accrue. "Free Spirit" features a creeping, martial beat that insinuates its way through most of Electronic Dream with a dry, rustling insistence that is hard to shake. "Underground Stream" forgoes subtlety and turns into a soundtrack for a bleak rave, full of dripping faces and menacing stares (sampled sounds include chilling screams and an eerie invocation of "death and putrefaction.") That it all holds together is testament to an aesthetic that is more agile and active than it initially seems. AraabMuzik's drums sound good and distinctive, scratchy and textural and somehow seemingly impatient in places. And his command of all that goes on over-top adds to a sound more complex than simple pleasures could summon on their own.
The Angelic Influence
An important album for its time, and an absolute blast for any kind of future that awaits, Kylie Minogue's Fever is slick, sleek and slippery. The smash single, "Can't Get You Out of My Head," became a self-fulfilling prophecy with a melody that is almost insidious for its overwhelming powers of seduction. And the rest of the album managed to make that merely one of many highlights, with thwacking house-music anthems like "Love at First Sight," squiggly electro ballads like "Fever," and an ever-present gloss of pop glaze that makes all things shiny and smooth. When it came out in the newly web-centric world of 2001, Fever proved strong and worthwhile enough to begin to shift what "pop" could mean to different audiences — and how it could, in crafty hands, be enlisted and employed.
The Big Rap Star-Turn
AraabMuzik had a hand in four tracks on Crime Pays, an album on which rapper Cam'ron sounds crazy, cramped and creeped out. AraabMuzik's beat for the single "I Used to Get It in Ohio" is a dense rush of frizzed-out textures, ominous drums and some deliciously chintzy piano tinkles that wouldn't sound out of place in a bad horror movie. It's all a bit cheap and definitely digitized, but there's so much going on — and so many layers in play — that those otherwise damning aspects prove to be real assets. "Spend the Night" finds AraabMuzik playing around with a cool ray-gun sound, while "Chalupa" skews as laidback and minimal in ways that illuminate the kind of little skitters and sprays he slathers so well onto drum sounds.
The Evocative Compatriot
El-P is a hip-hop producer who has seemingly never heard a sound that couldn't be improved by staring it down, busying it up and attacking it with a scouring pad. It's a strategy he's deployed to great success as part of Company Flow and behind the boards for Cannibal Ox, but his solo album Fantastic Damage feels all the more potent for its closeness to El-P alone — especially in the instrumental versions available on Fan Dam Plus. His rapping is not immaterial, of course, but El-P's productions — with infusions of eerie noise and beats brittle and dry like AraabMuzik's — gain a good deal from extra open space to eat up and spit back out.
The Martial Precursor
Some of AraabMuzik's darker, dancier moments hearken back to the early depths of techno in Detroit, where futurism was serious business and the best way to invest in it was to hunker down and burrow deeper and deeper underground. No enterprise did that better than the collective known as Underground Resistance, which made a show of its militant moods and turned out a slew of records beginning in the late '80s that sound wowing still. Nocturbulous Behavior - The Mix takes a concise and wide-minded tour through the vaults, with heady and storming techno tracks by the likes of Mad Mike, The Martian and X-101 all mixed together in a DJ set for the ages.
The Wide-Screen Backdrop
With the right updating and messing around, it's easy to imagine some of the soundtrack music from films by John Carpenter being reborn as AraabMuzik tracks. The synthesizers in offerings from movies like Escape from New York, The Fog and Dark Star strike similar chords, literally and figuratively, and the creepy economy of the theme from Halloween falls very much in line with parts of Electronic Dream. What is a hip-hop producer these days if not a distant descendent of the soundtrack composer? He has to know when to command the action and when to get out of the way — two habits that AraabMuzik has come to know impressively well.