Kush Arora :: The Dreadbass Chronicles
The parallels between the contemporary, urban strains of bhangra and dancehall are fairly inescapable. From the reverse cultural colonialism that morphed traditional musical styles into aggressive, techno-savvy expressions of working-class angst to the far more basic fact that both are defined by their combinations of hard-hitting percussion and rhythmic vocal styles, the subtle similarities are far more numerous than the pronounced differences.
Despite those connections though, few artists have seen fit to intertwine the two styles, although DJ Rekha has come close to evoking the loose, late-night party style of contemporary dancehall with her DJ sets and remixes of bhangra artists. Still, if DJ Rekha makes Basement Bhangra, Kush Arora is making Bashment Bhangra. For his fourth full-length studio album, the Bay Area-based DJ digs deep into the bassbin and comes up with a clutch of cavity-rattling beats and quivering electronic tweaks topped by fevered and flawless mic-thrashing by an array of astounding MCs.
The power of those MCs - particularly the Chicago-based MC Zulu - is what immediately grabs one's attention when listening to The Dread Bass Chronicles. Zulu's resonant, clear and authoritative mic style is both nimble and commanding, and as he twists in and out of serpentine rhymes on cuts like "11th Hour Escape" and the sly Bell Biv Devoe-referencing of "Poison Pill," he does so in a way that manages to be jaw-droppingly complex but without being unnecessarily flashy. That's a trait that extends to the other rhymers on the disc, although many of them like N4SA, Bongo Chili and Wiseproof go for that gravelly-voiced and rhythmically bouncy style that's more immediately reminiscent of yard-style dancehall.
Still, it's not the MCs who have their name on The Dread Bass Chronicles, and the tracks constructed by Kush Arora are what propel the album beyond being a fine dancehall disc and into the territory of being something altogether more special. Arora builds his tracks upon a foundation of thick, booming beats that merge the frenetic thrust of a bhangra dhol rhythm and the liquid thump of a particularly sick dubplate, and were that all he did, it would nearly be enough; bhangra beats - even in the most club-centric hands - tend to be more about speed than strength, while the tick-tick-tock of so many dancehall cuts leave far too little to the imagination. Arora goes for the most effective of both elements, and by weaving a tapestry of tumbi twangs and squelchy electronics atop those beats, he - along with those MCs - wound up crafting a thoroughly impressive album that's as gritty and tough as it is progressive.