DJ Nate, Da Trak Genious
Reviewed by Steve Kerr Source: (Little White Earbuds)
For the uninformed, a basic rundown: the ghetto house blueprint drawn by Dance Mania and other labels in the 1990’s begat juke, a slightly faster, more dance-specific (Youtube “Chicago juke” if you’re unfamiliar) style that incorporated pop sampling to a greater extent — vocals looped at hyperspeed for an intense, blurry effect. Sometime in the last decade, Chicagoan juke productions started to become even faster (now sitting around 160 BPM) and more broken, with a deeper emphasis on sub-bass and the bleakest lyrics on commercial radio, the product of a generation weaned on a combination of ghetto house and coke rap mixtapes. For the last five years or so, some Internet diligence would grant you a window into what the city’s youth were up to, with footwork tracks circulating on Youtube and Imeem.
Apart from older producers like DJ Rashad and DJ Roc, whose tracks are purchasable as downloads, the footwork scene has been a closed one, although not without good reason — footworking isn’t exactly the easiest dance to master. This is especially true with regard to the younger generation — their tracks and mixes are difficult to get ahold of outside of Chicagoland, and their global fans have relied largely on trips to the city or low quality rips. As the music world becomes increasingly globalized this all is changing, with people like Mike Paradinas of Planet Mu and Neema Nazem of the Ghettophiles label pushing the sound into boutique shops and a horde of trend-chasing DJs following their lead.
Trendy or not, it’s infectious stuff, especially for fans of the half-step/sub-bass dynamic of dubstep. One of the most idiosyncratic of this younger breed is Nathan Clark, better known as DJ Nate, a highly prolific producer now involved in rap and R&B projects. Da Trak Genious, his second release on Planet Mu after the introductory Hatas Our Motivation 12″, compiles Clark’s work from the last few years. His tracks are lo-fi and frequently abstract (even for footwork), and his place in the larger juke/footwork spectrum has been subject to endless debate because of it. But the same sketchiness that may keep his productions out of regular rotation at footwork events is also one that ought to endear his material to those interested in adventurous sonics.
With twenty-five difficult-to-find tracks, Da Trak Genious is as good a window as any into DJ Nate’s catalog. Like most footwork producers, Clark shifts motifs from track to track, and so preference really comes down to whether you want an intense battle anthem or something in the twisted R&B ballad category. For my money, DJ Nate is at his best when he couples the near-ubiquitous pitchbent vocal samples of the latter with the rumble and thrust of the former, resulting in a profound kind of dissociation — ethereal and heady, but also insistent in its corporeality.
On “Below Zero,” Clark loops the phrase “It’s a cold world” over a typically stuttering rhythm section, and it’s pitched up and down while someone (presumably Clark) intones the titular phrase on top of it. There’s a very clear double meaning — either the world is literally inhospitable, or it’s cold because it’s Nate’s world and he’s figuratively the coldest producer. It’s a dichotomy at the heart of footwork music and DJ Nate’s in particular. Elsewhere, “Free” twists a Deniece Williams sample into an unsettlingly gentle track for the circle. The confrontational “Hatas Our Motivation” becomes downright intimidating when the title is repeated enough, while “May Be Sum Day” is probably the most bizarre, alien R&B you’ll ever encounter. “He Ain’t Bout It” builds upon a mournful sample pitched way down; it’s totally eerie, and exemplary of why Clark has developed a big fanbase among followers of the dragged genre.
Perhaps due to the fact that Paradinas had to master many of the tracks from Internet rips (Clark gave his old computer to someone who wiped the memory), some of DJ Nate’s best material is conspicuously absent — most notably, the anthems produced for his crew the Heat Squad. Also absent is the gorgeous, panning “Imaburnhim,” which was included on the Hatas Our Motivation 12″, a track that deserves the greatest hits treatment as much as anything else he’s done. Then again, this isn’t really a greatest hits. Hatas is a snapshot of Nate’s best work, while Da Trak Genious is more an overview of Clark’s various experiments. In the much larger scope of contemporary music, though, there is little that manages to be quite this unique, and for this reason it deserves even your casual attention.
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