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If You Meet Your Hero in the Record Crates, Kill Him (MP3s)

The influence of the late hip-hop producer J Dilla feels, at times, insurmountable. In death (he passed five years ago this month), Dilla reached a place in the pop consciousness that, at least in hip-hop terms, only rappers usually achieve: the level of cultural icon, where work and image and biography and myth collide.

An edifice that tall casts a shadow wide and long. If you spend any time listening in on the beat-battle message boards, where striving producers and bedroom beatcrafters share their efforts, it’s clear that his influence is as strong if not stronger than that of his peers, folks like Timblaland, the Neptunes, Swiss Beatz, Alchemist, and so on.

Philadelphia’s Shawn Kelly, aka Arckatron, aka WhyArcka, a fairly constant presence on this site, has never been shy about his affection for Dilla. Few if any producers are. They drop his name almost as often as they do his samples. Over the past few years, Kelly has developed a set of beats for Dilla tribute performance, and he’s uploaded the prepared material to his soundcloud.com/arckatron space. Ever fully conscious of what he is up to — Kelly is a remarkable presence in production, with a keen ear for mico-moments of songs, which he shapes into original compositions that are like side-view holograms of the original — he has titled the work, explicitly, “Gettin’ Dilla Out My System.” By reproducing and messing with the work of a prominent cultural predecessor, he enacts in real time the functional process of absorbing and dispensing with influence.

If Arcka’s goal truly is to rid himself of the anxiety of influence, you can say he starts making headway around the five-minute mark (technically the 15-minute mark, because this is the second of two sets of eight beats each, and the first track, also at soundcloud.com/arckatron, is 10 minutes long). That’s when his trademark cut-up, a splinter stutter that’s hip-hop’s answer to granular synthesis, starts to make itself heard.

Track originally posted at soundcloud.com/arckatron. Above photo of Kelly performing is a detail of a still from concert footage of him at vimeo.com.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • Marc Weidenbaum founded the website Disquiet.com in 1996 at the intersection of sound, art, and technology, and since 2012 has moderated the Disquiet Junto, an active online community of weekly music/sonic projects. He has written for Nature, Boing Boing, The Wire, Pitchfork, and NewMusicBox, among other periodicals. He is the author of the 33 1⁄3 book on Aphex Twin’s classic album Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Read more about his sonic consultancy, teaching, sound art, and work in film, comics, and other media

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