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AraabMuzik, ‘The Remixes Vol. 1’ (Ultra)

AraabMuzik / Photo by Chad Kamenshine
SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: July 09, 2013
Label: Ultra

When Providence-raised producer AraabMuzik joined EDM duo Flosstradamus for a free, outdoor NYC show last August, his whirlwind MPC technique was only part of the attraction. For older onlookers, he also helped contextualize the then-blooming trap craze for the mosh pit teeming before him. While the huge audience of neon-clad underagers grinded up on one another to Flosstradamus’ rap-heavy set (with the “Damn son, where’d you find this?” sample dropped excessively, of course), the man born Abraham Orellana relied on slightly more sophisticated beat construction, freestyling complicated rhythms and nodding to everything from trance to dubstep to, yes, pop.

He’d made a lot of sense on that double bill: After all, AraabMuzik first made a name for himself reintroducing and revitalizing the famed Harlem rap crew Dipset with his electronic screams. And now, on his new The Remixes Vol. 1 — out via Ultra Music, a label spun off from the EDM festival of the same name — his hip-hop instrumentalism has embraced arena-friendly populism to an ever greater degree.

The 24-year-old represents a new strain of “turntablism”: a technical, physical, practiced skill complemented by his knack for spinning catchy patterns out of aggressive, oddball samples. His breakout Dipset collaboration, “Salute,” made shrill synth loops accessible to hip-hop heads, just as dance-music stans were fleeing in terror from the like-minded clatter that pierced Skrillex’s own career-defining hit, “Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites.” The pair team up on Remixes to rework Benny Benassi’s house hit “Cinema,” cutting off any build-up to a Skrillex-style, fan-friendly drop; instead, they feed chomping, head-banging growls of bass with an assault-rifle attack of sirens from start to finish. Araab’s take on Wolfgang Gartner’s “Still My Baby” plays a similar game, restraining vocals that yearn for cheesy house glory and overblowing your speakers with an arresting stomp. He’d started this sort of work on his 2011 artist album Electronic Dream, rescuing a DJ Nosferatu sample from bottle-service glut and deploying it as the blueprint to theatrical, scream-laden banger “Underground Stream.”

His best work emphasizes such brooding cinematics, extending melodic elements and stretching them out to waft over whatever unexpected technical magic he runs beneath them. (The 2010 hit “Whistle Song” set the bar as far as melodic, stand-alone trap instrumentals go.) Now, remixing Mt. Eden’s “Sierra Leone,” the DJ strips the song of its headache-inducing booms in favor of subtle, pulsating wubs and fluttering chime accents. It’s the type of track that could easily host a vocalist but just as easily survives without one. Then there’s Bloody Beetroots’ “Chronicles of Fallen Love,” a stare-into-the-stadium-lights, vapid-chorus trance anthem relieved of its vocals and refurbished with sharper percussion and drifting ambiance. Araab does occasionally let the singer stick around: On his rework of Taana Gardner’s early-’80s disco classic “Heartbeat,” her mantra-like hook does the beatmaking and heavy lifting.

He’s proved his willingness to cater to the EDM crowd, but will EDM crowds ever flock to him? The DJ’s fleet-fingered precision and explosive, intimidating drum-machine attacks are a distinct form of performance art, and one that’s hard to fully appreciate through headphones alone; Remixes is simply no substitute for his live act. But these tracks are still a crucial part of his identity: When a guest verse from Chase N. Cashe shows up on a bonus version of “Keep It in Motion,” it reminds you that he’s a hip-hop producer first and foremost. Whether he’ll ever headline festivals like his new Ultra Music cohorts remains to be seen, but he’ll never be content with merely copying them.