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Japan's DJ Krush gets his abstract-electronica groove on

Wednesday, Feb 19 2003
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Not many foreign rap artists find their way to American ears -- and even fewer hang around for a decade. But against all odds, Japan's DJ Krush is closing in on the 10-year mark with his seventh proper album, Shinsou: The Message at the Depth.

Krush's 1994 long-player, Strictly Turntablized, helped put U.K. label Mo' Wax on the map, solidifying the concept of "abstract" instrumental hip hop with a collection of sparse grooves, cut-up horn lines, and soulful grunts. Most so-called "trip hop" never moved beyond that template, but on subsequent releases -- particularly 1999's Kakusei and 2001's Zen -- Krush kept experimenting, thinning his arrangements down before fattening them up with eclectic guest vocalists like Black Thought, Zap Mama, Company Flow, and the Roots' ?uestlove. Shinsou continues in this collaborative vein, with Anti-Pop Consortium, members of Oakland's Anticon collective, and local up-and-comer Opus bringing their own styles to bear. And for purists, there's Japanese MC Inden rapping in his native tongue on "Toki No Tabiji," his gritty, aggro flow the perfect complement to Krush's fractured sound design.

Reflecting the diversity of its players, Shinsou is Krush's most sonically inventive record to date. Leaving behind the lackadaisical jazz cannibalism of his early years, the producer sticks mostly to hyperprocessed synthetic sounds, energizing his tunes with shuddering drum 'n' bass cadences, choppy percussive pileups, and off-kilter rhythms.

As a live performer, the jock's selections are as unpredictable as the jagged edges of his own productions. Pulling together classic rap, golden-age roots reggae, ambient drum 'n' bass, and advanced electronica, Krush leaves just enough splinters to prick up your ears.

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Philip Sherburne

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