2007 has been a year of struggle and debate for hip-hop. Some of the artists are ready to declare hip-hop dead, some will join forces and say it’s alive and stronger than ever, but perhaps they’re both off base. I don’t recall any time in recorded history when music has been declared dead, or poetry has become completely irrelevant. That’s not to say that both haven’t suffered through long periods of creative stagnation, or that they haven’t been driven into hiding by oppressive regimes that believe art’s only purpose is to glorify their great leaders and will not accept anything “subversive.” The point is that stagnant waters always break, a new rock is thrown into the lake, and the ripples can raise to the size of tidal waves in no time flat. Censors always lose in the end – the harder they squeeze a hand around the throat of artistry the more it slips through their fingers and the more subversive that it becomes. All of the so-called community leaders and political activists who have been questioning the arts ought to SHUT THE FUCK UP for a minute and listen to “The Soundcatcher.”
At a time when everybody wants to peg hip-hop music into square holes, DJ Vadim’s album “The Soundcatcher” is as big and round as they come. When RJD2 went on his rant about feeling creatively limited by hip-hop and wanting to expand his artistic scope, he went off the deep end and turned into a whiny-voiced singer with crappy pop-lite music. One gets the feeling Vadim must have had the same moment of soul-searching, but instead of abandoning the wheel he decided to reinvent it and slap it on a brand new whip. “Fear Feats” with Emo and Syrus is an uplifting Carribean concoction which playfully blends the boundaries between reggae & hip-hop, floating over a scratchy looped break with some live saxophone and trumpet from Finn Peters and Dom Glover respectively. If you draw from this track the impression DJ Vadim is going to bust 17 tracks of dancehall music, you couldn’t be more wrong. Vadim freely explores all of the different musical roots of the arts, not limiting himself to any one sound or style. “Talk to Me” featuring Sena is trippy and organic, a pleasant mixture of ?uestlove soul and Chief Xcel funk with a singer whose vocals are purposefully distorted with static. Head nodding is mandatory.
One might at this point be questioning where the rap is on this album, but as has been stated many times before on many turntablist reviews, you don’t have to be rapping to make a hip-hop album. Nevertheless DJ Vadim recognizes the value of a vibrant vocalist just as much as the ferocity of a funky freestyler. The closest thing this album has to a title track is “Soundcatchers,” and the verbals are dominated by Abstract Rude, among the left coast’s most esoteric and artistic lyricists. Rude catches the sounds in his own way, switching from a sing-song style to straight up flowing, turning at his leisure and seeming breezing over the beat in stream-of-consciousness styles. “Kill Kill Kill” with Big Red and Kathrin deBoer features Red spitting at speeds Twista would be hard-pressed to keep up with, and a thick accent some listeners will be hard-pressed to decipher, but deBoer’s soulful singing and V’s beats stitch it all together into a kind of snappy hip-hop that you literally expect Lyrics Born to jump on and start rapping over at any second. (I’d really like to see what Vadim and Born could do together, it would truly be some next shit.) Deuce Eclipse spits on “Like the Wind” to a melody seemingly lifted straight from a Kurosawa film, with a flute guaranteed to send a chill straight down your spine.
Put simply there’s enough lyricism to make “The Soundcatcher” recognizable to a jaded rap junkie, but there are so many sounds that DJ Vadim wants to catch in the hip-hop diaspora that he can’t limit himself to just one. If you see the word “DJ” next to an artist’s name and automatically expect a mixtape full of tired lyricists over recycled beats, you’ve gotten entirely the wrong idea – and perhaps this album isn’t for you. Vadim is a DJ in the oldest sense of the word, when “deejay” was synonymous with “selector” and the “selector” was a craftsman who would reinvent music and throw a grooving party all at the same time just by carefully choosing the right sounds and styles. At times the album shifts to soulfully crooned tunes like “Black is the Night,” at times it’s an old school throwback hip-hop mixed with modern politics and dusty West-West flows like Zion’s rap on “I Got to Rock,” and at times it’s a “Bath in Bleach” which you can trust is nowhere near as unpleasant as it sounds – it’s heavy bass, frogs chirping, and some true next level shit. Normally a book shouldn’t be judged by its cover but “The Soundcatcher” is also an eyecatcher, featuring some beautifully rendered artwork which wraps from front cover to back and looks like it should be hanging on a museum wall instead of sitting in your hands. To every critic who questions whether it’s still “art” in 2007 or if it’s all about “bitches and hoes” in hip-hop, DJ Vadim’s “The Soundcatcher” is the answer. Vadim proves there’s plenty of room for the art of the culture to continue to evolve and grow.