After a ten-year hiatus, the trip-hop legend returns to find the times have caught up with him.
For anyone who was around during the mid-1990s underground dance culture boom, Alessia Cara's current hit "Here" marks a fascinating turn of events. It has taken twenty years and a YouTube star-turned-Def Jam-signee, but "trip hop" has finally made it into the American top ten.
"Here" is built around a comprehensive sample of Isaac Hayes' drowsily sensual "Ike's Rap II" from 1971. More likely, though, the source for Cara's producers was "Hell Is Around the Corner". That track, from the 1995 masterpiece of a debut by the British trip hop pioneer Tricky, uses the same Hayes sample. Yesterday's alternative vanguard has become today's Top 40 fodder.
So where does that leave trip hop? Like a lot of easy, trend-mongering labels, "trip hop" generally is despised by those to whom the term applies. But it is still an efficient way to describe the unique combination of indie music set to slowed-down hip hop beats, with added infusions of dub, soul, jazz, turntablism, and even rock. Like Tricky, Hideaki "DJ Krush" Ishi was a trip hop innovator. His seminal '90s albums such as Krush and Meiso helped establish the style.
The self-released Butterfly Effect is Krush's first new album in a decade. Now that his style has in effect become mainstream, does he have anything new to say? How to keep it fresh? Or, as a respected veteran in his mid-50s, does he even need to? These are questions which with Butterfly Effect struggles.
In short, no, Krush does not really have much new to say in terms of music or overall approach. Like his past albums, Butterfly Effect features a slate of guest rappers and vocalists on about half the tracks, while the other half are instrumental. Like his relatively recent work, it favors pop, ambient, and jazz sounds a bit more and hip hop a bit less. Krush has not really kept things fresh, either. The eclectic group of collaborators yields mixed results. Krush brings in the popular Arabic indie singer Yasmine Hamdan for "My Light". But everything from its clichéd self-empowerment message ("Nobody else but me / Controls my fate") to Hamdan's staid, ice-queen delivery to Krush's clean yet non-descript hip hop backing leads to the kind of track that gave "trip hop" a bad name in the first place. On "Nostalgia", the stately piano from composer Takashi Niigaki is at odds with Krush's minor chords. Likewise, rapper tha BOSS's aggressive flow does not mesh well with "Living in the Future"'s lackadaisical backdrop. If Butterfly Effect were full of prime material, the heard-it-before effect would not be a huge deal. But that's not the case.
Still, when Krush is on his game, his brooding intensity remains formidable. "Probability" gets the album going with a genuinely blunted rhythm, moody synths, and ghostly voices. South African rapper Crosby gets some nice toasting in on the dubstep-influenced "Sbayi One". Underground hip hop veteran Divine Styler and his unflinching delivery bring power and heft to "Everything and Nothing". Tracks like these make some of the lesser instrumentals sound like smooth jazz by comparison. Worse than that, though, is "Missing Link", an altogether weak attempt to incorporate prog rock noodling.
If the times have truly caught up with "trip hop", or whatever it's called, Butterfly Effect finds DJ Krush struggling to stay ahead of the curve. For his dedicated fans, it is sure to be a welcome return, but it does little that Krush has not done better before.