If you were ever in doubt that any kind of music whatsoever can be mixed into hip hop beats, let “Dr. No” cure you. Producers are reaching into ever deeper tunnels looking for sonic gems, and Oh No has found a very rich vein to tap with the world of Ethiopian music. Dr. No’s Ethiopium, an album of hip-hop instrumentals, is a 36-track storehouse of soundtracks for future late-night freestyle sessions.
Some of the tracks call to mind the Ethio-jazz many are familiar with from the Ethiopique series, weaving a hip-hop beat under the sinewy horns and keys. These tracks keep the original sound intact while adding some low-end weight and an urban edge. Others are more experimental, dicing and chopping evocative, Eastern-scaled Ethiopian folk and traditional music and squeezing them into hard loops that crunch against each other with a satisfying crispness.
The atmosphere on Ethiopium is druggy and dark, but Oh No is forward-thinking enough to avoid pumping out dungeon beats or Wu-Tang style jazz-hop. The tracks vary enough in tempo and style that sometimes they jar against each other more than blend into a continuous mix, so this one works on “shuffle” just as well as front-to-back. If possible, this is one to have on wax, and I’m guessing that outside of the limited audience for hip-hop instrumental albums on MP3 and CD, the turntables are where Ethiopium is going to have an active second life.