Long gone are the days of collecting 12″ singles in order to obtain instrumental versions of songs. With Soundclick, Youtube and a whole host of producers releasing their back catalogue in instrumental form it’s always baffled me why a producer would release new music without an MC holding things together. I’m not talking DJ Krush-style melodic adventures here, but traditional hip hop beats that loop every 4 bars. As a listening experience, there’s little longevity, but with the availability (and ease of use) of audio manipulation software (previously referred to as two turntables and a mixer) the possibilities are endless.
Only the elite can get away with whole instrumental albums, such is the exposed nature of a producer’s creation. When flicking through the tracklisting I had to double-take when reading “3 In The Chamber”. Could this be the same track released on DJ KO’s “Picture This” compilation which brought together Torae, O.C. and Kaze over what has to be My Personal Favourite Hip Hop Production Ever. That’s probably exaggerating, and although I’m not overly familiar with Ayatollah’s work other than the occasional production on albums such as Wordsworth’s “Mirror Music” and Cormega’s “Born & Raised”, his style of production is right up my street. Beats chopped to perfection, whether they thump or plod. “Devotion” kicks off proceedings, dominated by a female vocalist who repeats her ramblings for forty five seconds before a drum loop eases the tedium. It’s a disappointing start that feels like even a Dipset rapper would have improved proceedings. “Nothing But The Funk” possesses a harder style, something a Torae or Reks would sound excellent over. The “I love you” sample marries the soft and hard aspects of hip hop perfectly with the claps and snares, and demonstrates how an MC can utilise a romantic beat without sounding soppy. Being in instrumental form, Ayatollah has allowed the listener the option of applying an LL Cool J acapella to his beats, or even marrying rappers of today with the throwback sounds of yesteryear.
“In The Park” differs from other beats on “Avant Garde” as the vocal sample switches up when you least expect. It’s easily the best beat on the record and works equally well in instrumental form as it would if accompanied by an MC. “Penny Candy” is as vibrant as any Beatnuts record and benefits from a lack of party rhymes. If you don’t move your head EVEN SLIGHTLY to this, report to Kool Moe Dee and GO SEE THE DOCTOR. “Extra Clips” is a beat that is too subtle to benefit from being on an instrumental album, and could use an MC to breathe some life into the piano loop. “Verbal Assault” comes with the predictable Inspectah Deck vocal, but isn’t like 7L & Esoteric’s “Verbal Assault” and feels more Agent 47 than Shaolin Warrior. It’s the type of beat you can imagine a Tragedy Khadafi or Cormega choosing to spit composed thug literature over. “Cheech Wizard” is perhaps the standout weakness on “Avant Garde”, only because it is the production that is crying out most for an MC to carry the track’s thumping synths. Imagine listening to an instrumental off one of Busta Rhymes late-90s efforts and you get the idea.
“My Earnest Wish” initially feels like a lost Wu Tang Clan intro track, but the lack of crashing snares brings to mind a rapper I recently reviewed material for; Roc Marciano. This wouldn’t sound out of place on “Reloaded” with its minimal rhythm and frequent use of warfare sound effects. “Again” is what “Avant Garde” is all about. I want to go Googling acapella files to try and stick as many dope MCs on this beat as humanly possible. That’s no disrespect to Ayatollah, I understand his wish to create instrumental albums to showcase his talents, but as a fan of hip hop I want to hear some equally dope rhymes and play jigsaw with the beat. The final track “The Wig Out” does feature a vocal performance from Silent Knight, and although it is decent, the beat is one of the weaker efforts.
Just as Jay-Z proved by releasing the acapellas to “The Black Album” ten years ago, fans can realise their dreams of marrying Premo, 9th Wonder and the like to an artist of their preference. The beauty of “Avant Garde” isn’t in that you could blend it with some Jigga raps, it’s the versatility on display that allows any rapper to sound dope. As long as Ayatollah keeps dropping head-nodders of the quality that “3 In The Chamber”, “In The Park” and “Hard Body” exude, he will never be short of work.