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Jorge Velez - Roman Birds Music Album Reviews

Inspired by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, this five-track ambient wonder finds the New York producer letting pulses and motifs overlap until the tracks resemble the inside of a lava lamp.
Jorge Velez has long been prolific, but that’s been especially true in the past few years. Like many underground electronic musicians, the New York producer has taken advantage of the internet’s self-publishing opportunities—in particular, the direct-to-fans platform Bandcamp—to sidestep label gatekeepers, streaming services, and crowded retailers. (Velez’s Bandcamp page currently numbers 26 releases.) Velez first gained recognition a dozen years ago with blippy disco derivatives for labels like Italians Do It Better, but his output has gradually become more esoteric and inward-looking. He’s still capable of ebullient club tracks, as last year’s excellent Forza attests, but many of his long, undulating machine jams sound like late-night missives to himself.



DJ Muggs - Dia del Asesinato Music Album Reviews

The veteran producer and Cypress Hill alum reconnects with his New York roots on a fun, if not terribly challenging, revivalist romp surrounded by outer-borough icons and a few hungry upstarts.

DJ Muggs may forever be associated with California, thanks to his work with Cypress Hill, but recently he’s returned to his New York roots. Born in Flushing, the veteran producer has, several times over the past year, collaborated with an unlikely muse: the charismatic Queens rapper Meyhem Lauren. Lauren shows up on Muggs’ new album, Dia del Asesinato, another strong collection of outer-borough street rap. He’s joined by a trio of legendary MCs (MF Doom, Raekwon, and Kool G Rap) as well as Freddie Gibbs, Mach-Hommy, and others.

Muggs was a mentor to the Alchemist, and Dia del Asesinato is not unlike one of that producer’s showcase records from around the turn of the decade. It’s coherent by virtue of its smooth, hard-hitting production, which doesn’t flit from style to style or experiment with new approaches. Muggs’ beats are attention-seeking, with audacious, well-chosen loops; on songs like the early “Day of the Dead,” Kool G Rap doesn’t so much rhyme over the production as battle through it. “Black Snow Beach” is elegant and velvety, sounding like something Nino Rota might have made if he had a habit of playing around on Ableton. Muggs’ drums, in particular, are huge, heavy, commanding. They never sound programmed. On tracks as divergent as “Blue Horseshoes” and “Duck Sauce,” you can almost imagine a drummer beating the hell out of his instrument, working to the point that sweat drips down his forehead. And because few songs surpass the three-minute mark, nothing wears out its welcome.

The producer has chosen his collaborators well. No one falls down on the job, and some of the rappers sound sharper than they have in some time. Kool G. Rap bodies his back-to-back early-record appearances, dusting Doom, who’s not necessarily bad, but is rapping at a quarter of his top speed on “Assassination Day,” the stronger of his two features. (He does get a nice Maino reference in.) Almost all the marquee rappers have two features each, save Freddie Gibbs, who, along with Hus Kingpin and Eto, only gets one song. It’s a shame. Gibbs lights into “Death Wish” with vigor, sounding, appropriately, 15 years younger than the group of 50-year-old legends he bests here. His portrait of the gangster as a young man includes a particularly evocative image: “Ninja Turtles backpack/.38 next to my Lunchables.” Mach-Hommy also acquits himself well. The eccentric Newark rapper is particularly good on “Contagion Theory,” where he sings and raps casually, sounding great over horns.

What Dia del Asesinato does best is foster a welcoming environment. Muggs is a conservative producer: He picks an excellent loop, places it over the right drums, and lets things ride, with few surprises hidden around corners. That gives the rappers here, all of whom fetishize this sound, license to LARP freely as kingpins, street hustlers, alley backstabbers, whatever. It’s less ’90s boom-bap and more ’00s revivalism, which means that yes, the record is a revival of revivalism, something expertly recycled several times over. It doesn’t sound new, and that’s why everyone sounds so comfortable, so contented.

If there’s a downside: That’s it. The rappers are, for the most part, so relaxed that they don’t seem interested in competing. The flows are on point more often than not, but few of the lyrics are particularly memorable (or worth quoting). An environment of mutual support in the studio can make a record sound cozy, but also complacent. What Dia del Asesinato is missing is a sense of urgency. Thank Muggs for recruiting Gibbs and Hommy, younger rappers who still sound hungry. But, hey, the album is a brisk 12 tracks. The outro is pure instrumental, brash and filled with personality. Every time it ends, you wish that it would have gone on longer.

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