What could be better than trawling through a bunch of obscure Turkish psychedelia from the 60’s, through slabs of Lebanese, Greek and Italian funk, rock, traditional music and all kinds of weird genres in between? The answer has to be making beats out of them, as OhNo, the rising star of the Stones Throw empire, and incidently Madlib’s brother, has discovered, crafting 28 short pieces of instrumental hip hop exotica. The story is that at their showcase at SXSW Stones Throw honcho Egon played a DJ set of obscure world music and psychelica. Oh No was so blown away that Egon gave him access to the hallowed vinyl. It’s here where it gets interesting. OhNo’s attempts to corral these tunes into beat orientated joints, or flip and rip them according to the press release raises some interesting cultural questions. Would it be okay if he just stole James Brown breaks like every other hip hop head? Why is it that the shackles are raised when he’s plundering obscure world music folk from a bygone age – and then not crediting them? Obviously clearing these tunes would be prohibitatively costly, yet there is something slightly colonial about it all, utilising slabs of vocals, whirling horns, funky basslines, to exotic up his breaks. But then there’s the other hand, which is that these tunes are much more interesting than your run of the mill instrumental hip hop tunes, not only due to the source material, with which it’s impossible to go wrong, but also because OhNo has at times moved beyond the 4/4 hip hop straightjacket and is incredibly adept at melding his hip hop tendencies to tunes that you would never conceive could enter that world. Then there’s the length of the pieces, all under two minutes, offering enough time for him to establish the vibe before quickly moving on, not providing even of a fraction of the time it would take to lose interest. It’s an interesting concept, otherworldly tunes taken to another world. Is it an improvement upon the originals? Does the music need or want this? It doesn’t answer some of he harder questions, but at least it allows them to float around.
Bob Baker Fish