Ann Arbor-based producer Tadd Mullinix is a man of many names. When he’s recording drum and bass music, he’s SK-1; when he’s putting out a house record, he’s James Cotton; and when he’s exploring the world of hip-hop, he goes by Dabrye. He’s been quite active under the latter moniker, releasing two instrumental albums, 2001’s One/Three, and 2002’s INSTRMNTL, to critical acclaim. The latest Dabrye record, Two/Three, finds the producer diving deeper into the world of underground hip-hop, this time collaborating with some of the genre’s most brilliant and renowned artists.
Dabrye’s inspiration for his latest project came from a project with legendary Detroit producer J Dilla. The two men collaborated on the 2004 single, “Game Over”, which generated a good deal of buzz in the hip-hop underground. Dabrye placed the song at the end of Two/Three, and he built the rest of the album around the disorienting and foreboding atmosphere of the single.
Besides providing musical inspiration, the collaboration with Dilla gave Dabrye privileged access, opening the door for the producer to cooperate with some of the brightest stars in the Detroit hip-hop scene, including producer Wajeed and Invincible, an up-and-coming MC whose two tracks are album highlights. Rounding out the list of collaborators on Two/Three is an All-Star roster of underground hip-hop talent, including Vast Aire (a.k.a. Cannibal Ox), AG, the old-school hero and founding member of D.I.T.C., and Doom, whose familiar hypnotic flow and acrobatic lyrics ignite the album’s second single, “Air”. The contributions of these stars give the Two/Three immediate street cred and anchor Dabrye’s often experimental beats.
Given the exceptional list of guests on Two/Three, one remarkable aspect of the album is the fact that the most prominent voice on the album is Dabrye’s own. Throughout 20 tracks, the producer creates an unsettling soundscape dominated by insistent, intricate rhythms which often react with the vocals to stunning effect. Dabrye is relentless in the intensity of his production, and his busy, skittering trap kit beats frequently collide with the heated cadences of the MCs, producing a flurry of musical sparks.
If Dabrye’s intensity steers his newest album, his moderation preserves it. No matter how intense the music on Two/Three, becomes, it is never overwhelming. Dabrye’s musical sense prompted him to pepper the album with instrumental tracks such as “Tell Dem” and “Bloop”, which, besides providing a respite from the most intense rhythmic barrages, are remarkable feats of production in their own right. The album also displays a welcome sonic variety. Funky songs like the bouncing bass-propelled “Get it Together” balance the more cerebral, complex tracks and help make listening to the album a more satisfying musical experience.
The word “futuristic” is an apt description for the computer-driven soundscapes and unconventional rhythms of Two/Three. Most listeners will interpret the unsettling music on the album as a dystopic vision of the future. Dabrye’s sonic world, however, does not support such interpretations. It is rich, intricate, diverse, consistently intriguing and appropriately funky. If the future invites similar adjectives, it will be anything but a horrible place to live.
Dabrye - “Smoking the Edge” from 2002’s One Three