If Araab Muzik‘s “The Remixes, Vol. 1” is his first remix volume, what does that make his debut, “Electronic Dreams”?
Fun as that album was, each of its tracks was, at its heart, a bit of an obscure dance song laid over with MPC-controlled beats from AraabMuzik’s unfathomably quick hands. The 808s were slick and the sheer power the album could generate through a good set of speakers was impressive. But production value aside, “Electronic Dreams”‘s scarcely altered source material and lack of original songs made it more of an expensive mixtape rather than a full-fledged album. And like a mixtape, whether that album worked for you depended on 1) the depth of your love of beats and 2) your tolerance for voice tags (in case you forgot who you were listening to).
On “The Remixes, Vol. 1,” little has changed. Those vocal watermarks return (twice on the last track). The intricate MPC play is back too, but instead of deep, Youtube-only dance cuts getting the Araab treatment, it’s EDM heavy-hitters like Steve Aoki, Wolfgang Gartner and Skrillex. The big name reimaginings will probably interest hip-hop heads as genre crossover more than the dance crowd across the aisle simply because that’s the order of AraabMuzik’s interests. The samples of Gartner’s “Cognitive Dissonance” bend around long decaying kick drums more than they serve their backing track. The same can be said for the remix of Mt. Eden’s “Sierra Leone,” which reins in its wubs to make room for a steady 808 beat.
One exception is “Cinema,” AraabMuzik’s remix of Skrillex’s remix of a Benny Benassi track. Confusing as that might sound, very little of the Benassi original remains other than a snippet of the chorus. Instead, most of what we hear is Skrillex’s signature, high-anxiety laser synth, and a little drum sample slid underneath. Perhaps owed to how massive Skrillex’s sound is, the song comes off as another dance remix more than a hip-hop inspired one, and could slip into either artist’s live set with nary a raised brow.
One notable departure (and confusing on an album called “Remixes”) is the inclusion of two original tracks, “Keep In Motion” and “Darkside.” With complex backing palettes ripped away, both originals are skeletal in comparison to the remix tracks. The sparer “Darkside” is particularly basic, and formulaic to the point that you can practically visualize its region sequencing in your head (though for the record, AraabMuzik claims to do without music production software).
Like “Electronic Dream,” as a mixtape, “The Remixes Vol. 1” would be a great advertisement for one of today’s most entertaining live hip-hop producers. Even if his originals fall flat, the mix of dance synth and rib-rattling 808 beats are fun to crank. But if we’re going to splash some cash for it, there needs to be more substance—or at least a version with no watermarks.
Dylan Owens is Reverb’s indie and bluegrass blogger. You can read more from him in Relix magazine and the comment sections of WORLDSTARHIPHOP.