Oh No’s beat record “Dr. No’s Oxperiment” was one of my favorite records of 2007, and I loved hearing his beats turn up on Mos Def’s last album, and I was excited when I heard that his next project was a beat record based on Ethiopian music. So excited that I almost ordered the special version complete with a pound of Ethiopian coffee from Intelligentsia coffee. See, while I enjoyed the Mediterranean psych music that Oh No sampled on “Oxperiment,” I love Ethiopian funk and jazz. It’s funky, grooving, but totally unique. Its form and instruments are much different than Western music, so it’s recognizable yet exotic. It’s the perfect source for hip hop beats, and it’s high time a producer mine some Egyptian crates.
True to form, Oh No creates thirty-six mini opuses, almost all less than two minutes long. It starts off with the rattle of Ethiopian instruments of “Madness,” which then are layered with hissing beat and some wheezing G-funk synths. It’s Oxnard meets Addis Ababa, with the traditional instruments blending perfectly in the hip hop context. “The Funk” plays a snippet of an old jazz tune, drops the beat, and then comes back with the old jazz song tricked out with booming drums and some serious headnod. On some, like “World Traveler,” Oh No rides the beat, while songs like “Scary” and “Electronic Monsters” are more flipped out. He also works in different moods: “Dare Say” has a staggered, stuttering beat that vibrates in your eardrums, but he also creates quieter moments like “Soul of Ethiopa” with its piano loop.
Oh No’s signature sound is all over this record. “Problematic” manages to twist African chanting into a classic dirty break, and “Mindnight Missions” chops up vocal samples into a futuristic swirl. While most of the samples are pretty obscure, I did recognize a few. “Great Oracle” is Yegelle Tezeta’s “My Own Memory” underwater and high on purple drank, and Oh No pays homage to the late J. Dilla on “Louder,” which uses the same sample that’s on “The Clapper” from “Donuts.” The Dilla sample is fitting, since Oh No is following in Dilla’s footsteps with “Ethiopium,” creating instrumental hip hop that pushes the genre in new directions.
“Dr. No’s Ethiopium” combines two of the best things on Earth: Egyptian jazz and hip hop. This is a fantastic album, and one that improves upon “Dr. No’s Oxperiment.” I can’t wait to see what region Oh No digs in next, and I want to hear some rappers spitting over these beats. Oh No has not only proven himself once again to be more than Madlib’s little brother, but he’s also further cemented Stones Throw as the label for instrumental and innovative hip hop.