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Russia's DJ Vadim promotes international openness and spartan beats

If his crib is anything like his beats, DJ Vadim's pad must resemble a Buddhist monk's cell. The Russian hip hop producer has long been known for making some of the most Spartan rhythms out there: His 1996 record U.S.S.R. Repertoire thinned the backing tracks until they were little more than a film of snares and kick drums.

The Art of Listening, Vadim's third proper full-length, leaves his trademark spaciousness intact, with only the menacing basslines casting shadows amongst his whittled-down beats. Still, his minimalist tracks are never sterile. Sampled vinyl hisses and pops like an old house settling into itself at night, and snippets of whispers, creaky blues, and ululations lend a ghostly vibe.

Vadim's chosen vocalists go swaggering through his set pieces like the burliest of bruisers. Quannum's Gift of Gab mimics the low end's growl in “Combustible,” sizing it up and smacking it down with a shape-shifting baritone. The reggae-flavored tracks offer the same kind of rap-on-riddim combat. On “Who Me” and “Leaches,” Demolition Man acts out rude-bwoy fantasies, sparring with the bassline in a gravelly patois. Still, despite the tension in the songs, a mood of international openness prevails, thanks to contributions from France's TTC, gracing “L'Art d'Ecouter” with the trio's rubbery cadences, and Barcelona's Mucho Mu, who spits fury in short, staccato lines. Vadim's 1996 debut was one of the first Anglo-American hip hop records to feature non-English rhymes, and the Russian émigré's continuing commitment to multilingual collaborations welcomes the possibility of grass-roots globalization. More than just a beatmaker, DJ Vadim is a rap ambassador.

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