ow many beatmakers have produced consistently great albums year-in, year-out without becoming redundant? The game of instrumental hip-hop can get tedious, so it’s unsurprising that great maverick producers are hard to come by. Some have disappeared for long periods of time, gradually loading their clips with sure-things to unload on an unsuspecting populace (Dr. Dre and DJ Shadow waited years to release the follow-ups to their masterpieces). Others quickly snatch up some MCs or shop their beats around to new blood in order to refresh their winning formula (Cut Chemist creates Jurassic 5 and DJ Premier pops up everywhere, on seemingly every album).
Japan’s DJ Krush, however, has managed to release an endless series of production albums to little or no critical fawning and has continued to attract reputable underground contributors. Unlike his American counterparts, DJ Krush realized early on in his career that his music would only excel on the strength of his collaborations. His willingness to experiment with a diverse oeuvre of musicians has allowed him to escape classification on each release. From the mostly by-the-books turntablism of early albums like Meiso and Milight to the jazz and jungle explorations of his later work, DJ Krush has pushed farther and farther outside the realm of hip-hop, yet continued to keep the emphasis on his life-blood, the beats.
Intended as a tribute to the traditional music of DJ Krush’s homeland, Jaku (his eighth full-length) finds the producer progressing towards an East-meets-West fusion. By inviting a multiplicity of Japanese musicians to record live in the studio with Krush, Jaku slowly tempers the average hip-hop listener’s ear with these traditional elements, which some may only recognize as that ambient music played at the sushi bar. Shuuzan Morita (no relation to Pat) sets the album’s mood on the opener “Still Island” with his stunning shakuhachi (traditional Japenese flute), immediately evoking mental images of an insidious Japanese countryside before a typhoon. Krush’s jungle beats splatter in the background like stinging bursts of wind and rain. It’s perhaps some of the most imaginative music Krush has put his name to, and it’s miles away from the scratch-and-sniff smoky jazz-hop sound he developed on Mo’ Wax.
This ominous and distinctly Asian sound pops up again and again on Jaku. Tetsuro Naito spices up “Univearth” with traditional Japanese drums, and Shinichi Kinoshita twists his Tsugaru-jamisen (a three-stringed instrument) around Krush’s dark, plodding beat on “Beyond Raging Waves”, successfully evoking the titular imagery. In fact, these jam sessions are precisely why Jaku succeeds at all.
There are too many non-sequiturs littered throughout the album, continually grounding the mood. After a solid take off, Mr. Lif appears out of nowhere on a very antiquated DJ-Krush-circa-1997 beat on “Nosferatu”. It’s not necessarily bad, but it just doesn’t belong in context. “Decks-athron” simply acts a showcase for Krush’s scratching, yet it clocks in at an agonizing 6 minutes. It’s as if he felt the other musicians were overshadowing him on his own album and, dammit, he decided to do something about it. To complete the Def Jux promotional bait tactic, he slips in “Kill Switch” and lets Aesop Rock ruin an already mediocre track.
These annoying missteps can be overlooked since Jaku does contain a strong case for it fulfilling its intentions. In many ways, it’s DJ Krush’s best album, but it’s sobering to admit an artist as committed and prolific as Krush can only achieve this greatness by stepping out of the spotlight to play second fiddle.
Reviewed by: Gabe Gloden
Reviewed on: 2004-10-08