Reviewed by Joe Lockard
Tuesday, September 26 2000, 8:07 AM
Hip-hop was as international by the early '90s as American jazz was by the early '20s. Cultural rebellion has been one of the best made-in-the-US export products since the Victorian era needed exploding, even as the United States exported the social conformities of new industrial organizational techniques and just plain-vanilla economic imperialism.
The difficult relationship with American domestic alterity, as expressed in its music culture, expanded into and incorporated a much broader dialogism between distant cultures and US colonialism. On one hand, the expansion of US power was predicated on the exploitation of distant labor forces and resources, giving rise to a wide set of political resistance movements. On the other hand, that same US cultural presence carried an antithetical message that subverted its own economic message of coerced cooperation.
Throughout the past century, music-for-export has been and remains a cultural double message. For example, when Sidney Bechet preferred to remain in France, he turned expatriate American music culture against the American racism that had so limited his work opportunities at home. Jazz as an international movement became a statement that rejected domestic oppression in the US while it emerged triumphant from the same. What jazz did once as music of resistance, hip-hop does now. At the same time, however, it would be a provincial mistake to treat the directionality as solely US-to-elsewhere. As illustrated by music like Talvin Singh's 1997 Anokha: Soundz of the Asian Underground compilation album, DJ Cam's French abstractions, and Brazilian batucada electronica mixed by basement guerillas, hip-hop's musical conversations are diffuse, multidirectional, and concerned with far more than American concerns. Hip-hop is unAmerican in several senses of identity, and its internationalism bases itself on a radically altered cultural directionality than that which propagated jazz sounds after World War I.
DJ Krush is probably one of the least political of the trip-hop spinners, having much more of a reputation as a master technician. Yet this compilation serves to locate him within an internationalist understanding of hip-hop, and particularly as a Japanese musician searching for an expressive milieu. DJ Krush does not speak English and arrived at hip-hop for its music alone.
The album is composed of Krush's favorites, the material he brings along for his DJ sets. As such, it provides a view of his formative influences brought back from the international club circuit. 'What Is It?' by Gravity, for example, was originally released on an obscure Swedish label and has traversed the globe eastwards, circling back towards its originating American style, carried now on this Sony (Japan) label release. Minoru Muraoka's 'El Condor Pasa' track shifts the location of style into an ambiguous paradigm that uses both Andes flutes and hip-hop rhythm. This sense of unencumbered borderlessness is characteristic of DJ Krush, yet there is little point in being celebratory about marketing as borderlessness in the sense that record company publicists prefer. Rather, this album represents an artful and knowledgeable shopping trip through the global hip-hop soundscape.
The world does not spin too fast at this mix album's latitude. Take a song like 'No Competition' with DJ Cam: it meanders slowly, uses casual style, and fades away without particular need of digestion. Or Krush's remix of Beats International 'Just Be Good to Me': a beat laid over the a cappella track and an odd scratch or two makes new? But there's always an argument for the slow and cool. Old World Disorder, featuring Eminem, helps make that argument on '3three6ix5ive' with its unhurried but complex orchestration. Slow but edgy instrumentation walks through an environment of electronica. Similarly, remix work involving Monkey Ken and DJ Seto using the ethereal backdrop of the Bulgarian Radio Choir in 'Taiyou Ga Arukagiri' is very effective.
DJ Krush set out to assemble unhurried mood music in a continuous flow and, if you are in that gliding mood, this album often suits settled-down ears. A track such as Jazzanova's 'Coffee Talk' plays with this mood, sliding from smooth sound to some mildly rough rhythm and back. It's just the music for sitting at a cafe overlooking some small ocean bay in the early evening, in a reflective funk, addicted to your own thoughts.
One of the most appealing cuts is Krush's own 'Final Home', featuring silky and urbane vocals from Canadian singer Esthero. She carries a torch song beautifully and Krush is wise enough to provide a minimalist sound shape, one that emphasizes rather than contradicts the song's romanticism. In one of the album's other major vocal tracks, the meaning of the Japanese rap 'Chic No Wa' by The Blue Herb will be lost on non-Japanese speakers, but reverse export is fair play. It just would have been useful if some album notes had included a translation here.
DJ Krush does not push excitement levels in the selections for this album. It is often contemplative in orientation, one where the choice relies on what works best for mood-setting in his live shows. What remains striking after listening to this album is the breadth of its recombinatory idiom. Even where DJ Krush does not make an explicit political statement, that globalist
Code 4109 is a Sony release