- Eminem's claim that "nobody listens to techno" notwithstanding, hip-hop and dance music have often enjoyed a mutual respect in Detroit. Countless artists have tried their hand at both—just look at the tracklist for the 1998 compilation Eleven Phases. J Dilla, possibly the city's most loved hip-hop producer, had two posthumous releases on Moodymann's label, Mahogani Music. Danny Brown, the city's biggest rap export at the moment, put out an album on Warp Records that began with the line, "I'm sweatin' like I'm in a rave."
In this context, a figure like Tadd Mullinix makes sense. Alongside the grimy techno he makes as JTC (or James T. Cotton), the Ann Arbor producer has, over the last two decades, sidelined in glistening hip-hop beats, most of which have come out in a three-part series of albums on Ghostly International. Three/Three, which lands nearly 12 years since the last installment, is the final chapter in the series, but not, we're told, the end of Dabrye's run.
The cast of collaborators on Three/Three shows this is more than a techno artist's side project. There are two generations of MCs, from Detroit old guard like Guilty Simpson and Phat Kat to newer names like Danny Brown and Nolan The Ninja. There's a bit of rap royalty as well, namely MF Doom and the Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah. Fellow Ghostly International staple Shigeto stops by as a guest producer.
As for Mullinix himself, his sound as Dabrye has changed over time, if not quite with the times. On One/Three and Two/Three, he presented a unique spin on hip-hop, combining the blunted style of Stones Throw and Mo' Wax with dreamy strains of glitch and IDM—precisely what you might expect from a hip-hop artist on Ghostly International. Here, he sounds more classically inclined, recalling a pre-2010 era of underground hip-hop defined by sampled drum breaks, goofy rhymes and even the occasional bit of scratching. If Two/Three imagined the distant future, Three/Three daydreams about the past.
MF Doom drives this point home on "Lil Mufukuz," scolding today's generation of "childish rappers" like a grumpy old man ("Grown folks is talkin', don't even mumble! Watch 'em run away from home and come back humble"). That's as salty as the album's lyrics get. MCs across the rest of the LP stick to subjects like Twitter ("I don't subtweet I @ you like I'm getting sick") cooking ("keep my lids up like I'm checkin a pot roast") and J.D. Salinger (name-dropped by Jonwayne). Only "The Appetite" broaches the topic of "sex, money, drugs," which it does by making a garbled refrain of those exact words.
The futuristic gloom of Dabrye's earlier albums is not gone entirely. It's there in the stumbling groove of "Culture Shuffle," the Knight Rider-style beat of "The Appetite," and the lurching instrumental "Electrocutor." For the most part, though, it's replaced by a more familiar sound: that of Mullinix's most obvious influence and Detroit's most mythologized hip-hop producer, J Dilla. To be fair, the results are so nice it's hard to complain too much about that. The album is flawlessly produced throughout, and has a few really dazzling moments—the fluttering breaks on "Sunset," the hazy beat of "Lil Mufukuz." Mullinix's production chops have improved enormously in the 12 years since Two/Three—today, he sounds more like a proper hip-hop producer than a quirky crossover act. Listening to Three/Three, though, you might miss that crossover a bit.
01. Tunnel Vision feat. Guilty Simpson
02. Emancipated feat. Ghostface Killah
03. Tape Flip Too
04. Lil Mufukuz feat. MF Doom
05. Fightscene feat. La Peace
07. Stranded feat. Fatt Father
08. The Appetite feat. Danny Brown, Quelle Chris, Rock Marciano
09. Pretty feat. Jonwayne
10. Sunset feat. Shigeto
11. Nova feat. Nolan The Ninja
12. Bubble Up feat. Phat Kat
14. Dr. Shroomen feat. G&D
15. Sisfo Ridin' feat. Clear Soul Forces
16. Culture Shuffle feat. Intricate Dialect, Kadence, Silas Green
18. First Law Of Nature Rock Day feat. Denmark Vessey
19. Tahn Ice Rhythm