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Listening to art. Playing with audio. Sounding out technology. Composing in code. Rewinding the soundscape.

New Essential Instrumental Hip-Hop (MP3)

As he promised on Twitter a couple months back, Philadephia-based producer Y?Arcka, aka WHYArcka, aka Arckatron, aka Shawn Kelly, has posted a slate of his recent instrumental tracks for free download and steaming. Kelly’s modus operandi is to dive deep into a single track, to extract a small part, like the riff or hook equivalent of a chromosome, and to then extrapolate from it an entirely new song. Generally speaking, Y?Arcka favors the less prominent chromosomes. Most producers of hip-hop instrumentals, which is, broadly speaking, how his music might be categorized (though it could just as easily be called plunderphonic), would favor, say, the hook equivalent of the chromosome for a strong chin. Kelly instead goes for the chromosome that is to blame for the patient’s slight instep. (As he tweeted back in May, “samples are where u never expect them to be.”) In one Jackson 5 remix, for example, he removed Michael in favor of two of the less popular brothers.

The new album turns another Jackson rifflet (a surprisingly prominent shard of “Rock with You”) into an estuary, but that’s just when it’s getting started. The collection is titled Blew Off the Burner Kinda Dusty, and its seven tracks show Kelly to be stronger than ever. Some of his earlier work emphasized ingenuity and off-kilter beats over compositional wholeness, but each of the seven tracks on Blew Off are full songs — not thoroughly conceived backing tracks awaiting a vocalist to complete them, just full songs.

The term “instrumental,” by the way, means a whole other thing in hip-hop, since a solid chunk of Kelly’s sample archive is vocal, if not verbal — vocal in factual terms, but no more or less textural and rhythmic than the rest of his source material. Perhaps the finest moment on Blew Off exemplifies this: “Swth,” which despite its Autechre-like title is a restlessly smooth affair, an endless give and take of hushed moans and rippling beats, bringing to mind some of the more subtle moments off Common’s under appreciated album Be.

The cover shows Kelly apparently blowing dust off his MPC beat machine, but if you ignore the set’s title, it’s also possible to think he’s about to give it a kiss.

Get the full set for free at arckatron.us. And I’m honored that the artist link on the album’s webpage goes directly to this interview I conducted with Kelly back in 2009: “Young Communicator.”

By Marc Weidenbaum

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  • about

  • 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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