Commercial hip-hop, having devolved to hair boutique background noise and shopping mall ambience, was sure to generate a creative backlash at some point, and 2001 may someday be viewed as the year the underground stemmed the spiral and made an abrupt u-turn back towards the light. Cannibal Ox’s inner-city turmoil broke through to suburbia. Anticon redefined, or at least expanded, people’s perception of hip-hop. And Prefuse 73, a.k.a. Scott Herren, shaped one of the finest records of the year by deconstructing the tired sounds of the genre and pasting it back together via ProTools. Beats usually subjugated to the background were featured front and center - and as an end instead of a means.
Detroit’s Tadd Mullinix, recording under the moniker Dabrye, treads much the same ground as Herren, who reportedly plans on releasing Mullinix’s work on his own Eastern Developments label. While Herren chopped up vocals to create disjunctive grooves, Dabrye distills the beats himself, offering up a cold concoction of funk-filled loops and playful, almost spontaneous, accompaniments.
One/Three, Mullinix’s first release as Dabrye, flows with the viscosity and off-beat flavor of cough syrup, slow and slightly unsteady. “The Lish,” the album’s opening track, meshes a floating self-effacing saxophone solo and EQ tinkering over glitched-up beats that bring to mind low-rider hydraulics on the haywire. “So Scientific” features hyperactive “Axel F” ’80s electro-synths hopping between inconsistent contingents of throbbing bass.
Dabrye’s repeated techniques, however, can grow a bit weary over the course of the album. Each song on One/Three stands well on its own, but Dabrye tends to incorporate the same squawky bass bursts and standard breakbeats. Instead of drawing the listener deeper into the mechanical grooves, the recurring patterns and skeletal arrangements on One/Three become increasingly ordinary over the course of the album’s 10 songs and 36 minutes.
Yet, in smaller doses, Dabrye’s steady electro-funk can bob heads with the best. No song extends past the four-minute mark, keeping the loops fresh. One/Three’s speechless hip-hop is certainly a promising sign of things to come.
By Otis Hart