The growing number of producer albums in hip-hop are a sign of the importance we attest to the sculptors of aural landscapes. The latest producer to embark on a solo mission is Tariq L. With rapper U-George, the New Jersey native forms the Atlanta-based duo The Hemisphere, which debuted with “Performing Artz” in 2001. Earlier this year, they dropped the “Blacked Out” 12″ on Sub Verse, which is now followed by Tariq’s “Beatz in My Lifetime Volume 1.0”.
A mixture of instrumentals and vocal cuts, “Beatz in My Lifetime” is a delicate affair, equally estranged from standard boom bap fare as it is from what normally goes down in the ATL, from the Dungeon Family to Disturbing Tha Peace. Fragile melodical layers, dubby textures, soft kicks and faint snares make for an intimate listening experience that tolerates no background noise. In other words, you better put your headphones on for this one. Even though he’s consistent in his approach, Tariq L still manages to cover a wide spectrum of musical moods.
Starting with the obligatory intro, the self-described Tone Sorcerer beams himself into a zone of his own with meandering streams of melancholic synth layers and scratches so light it seems as if the needle barely touches the wax. Even at its most dramatic, this compilation doesn’t raise above meditation level. On “Whirlwindz”, DJ Kemit slices GZA’s “war of the masses, the outcome’s disastrous” up sharply as U-George claims to “keep it rugged like a wolverine,” but even in its moderately menacing stance, this track doesn’t barge through the frontdoor, it seeps through the cracks, sneaks past standardized notions of how a certain kind of music is supposed to sound like.
This subtle infiltration is constantly modified by Tariq L throughout “Beatz in My Lifetime”. The ‘sparse beats up front, everything else to the back’ approach of “Airlinez” certainly isn’t new, but it’s still a welcome break from all the bangin’ and slammin’ that usually goes on in hip-hop. Whether anchored by melodies (“Luv 2 Luv”), looped (“LSR”) or just randomized sounds rhythmically bubbling to the surface (“Dr. Electric”), Tariq’s beats always develop a life of their own. The distinct dub influence is present throughout (“Natural Mystix”), but never to the point where you’d have to categorize it as dub.
Naturally, Tariq’s low-key beats take the backseat once vocalists get involved. Female MC Wildseed (assisted by vocal ensemble Sons of Light) leaves you guessing if her longing expressed on “Beaming” is spiritual or worldly. Either way, it’s a song worthy of opening up an album. The same can’t be said for the last vocal cut, Khari’s “Ride Wit Me”, a strange brew mixing radar bleeps with a lyrical piano. Also, “Wayz of My World” featuring singer Aphro works perfectly well until the bland beats come in. It’s one of those cases where producers should reconsider using beats just for beats’ sake.
But for every combination that doesn’t crack the safe, there are three that do. Imani Uzuri, who has worked with artists as different as Herbie Hancock, 4hero, King Britt and Reflection Eternal, lends her vocal authority to “Again” and “Dreamz”, and while she may not have the voice you’d typically find on a hip-hop record, her collaborations with Tariq L urge hip-hop to once again be as open-minded as jazz or electronica. Hip-hop has enough mediators to eventually get there, and one of them goes by the name of Tariq L, who can switch between playful stereo manipulation (“Stereo Freak”) and a six minute long song developing black awareness (“The Origin” f. Melaphyre) without losing trace of the bigger picture.