Just as music writers started developing a rubric for critiquing the DJ/producer as artist, in came new computer software to deride every form of craftsmanship in the medium — suddenly, the sound of a real hand scratching real records became increasingly rare. It's refreshing to find that a few old-school DJs have persisted in the new era, and preserved old aspects of the form. Among them is Look Records founder DJ Design, whose new compilation, Jet Lag, was four years in the making.
Jet Lag is sixteen tracks' worth of old and current material, featuring a series of underground rappers (including Phat Kat, Grip Grand, Guilty Simpson, Oh No, and Foreign Legion) who are loosely affiliated with Look or with Design's former label, Stones Throw. What really distinguishes Jet Lag is Design's production. He tries a range of styles but never lets experimentation get in the way of musical integrity. More importantly, his beats always enhance the tonal and rhythmic quality of the rappers that accompany them. The album's lead track, "Wild Ones," is probably its best, partly because it features Detroit rapper Phat Kat (who graces the album for all of half a song and still rides the beat better than any of his peers), and partly because of the vocal sample, a distorted female contralto that provides contour and direction.
Over the course of the album it becomes easier for a listener to characterize DJ Design's production style: His samples are either extremely hard-to-find or chopped up to the point of indecipherability; he's a melodic DJ with a penchant for tricky, syncopated rhythms; his beats usually have an implied rise. Jet Lag features four instrumentals, the last of which, "Gates of Steel," is the album's only anomalous track — a hardcore industrial beat with a shrill vocal hook that makes you want to crawl out of your skin. It's a weird way to end, but there's something to be said for exploring different genre; these days, most DJs wouldn't dare. (Look)
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