“There are a few people out there, in the midst of all types of busy scenes, who still find what I do to be relevant. For this I am eternally grateful.” - Dabrye, 2011
Despite being widely regarded as a luminary by both the hip-hop and electronic undergrounds, Tadd Mullinix seems genuinely modest – and even a little surprised that his work as Dabrye has has such an impact on those around him.
While instrumental hip-hop in its many guises has enjoyed a resurgence of interest and attention in the last few years – spearheaded in no small part by the likes of Flying Lotus, All City Records, LuckyMe, and L.A’s Low End Theory collective – Dabrye’s influence on the aesthetics that currently dominate this music is often overlooked. Make no mistake: if it wasn’t for the work of Dabrye – and others like Prefuse 73, El-P, Machinedrum and Danny Breaks – in the early to mid ’00s, there would be no FlyLo et al, and certainly no instrumental hip-hop renaissance as we know it.
“I’m not inside the hip-hop or electronic scenes. I’m not that involved on any level except that I’m playing the music. I still consider myself just a skateboard punk who gets turned onto different music by his friends.” - Dabrye, 2006 (URB)
The hip-hop alias of Ann Arbor, Michigan’s Tadd Mullinix changed most people’s conceptions of what hip-hop could be from 2001 to 2006, across three albums and a handful of 12”s and EPs. It was particularly his second album for Ghostly, Two/Three, that really shook things up by showing the potential for a new hip-hop: the combination of his forward-thinking productions with lyrics by the likes of Guilty Simpson, A.G and Vast Aire was striking to say the least. Following Two/Three Dabrye’s output unfortunately trickled down to a minimum with productions and remixes for the likes of Stones Throw, Fat City, Modeselektor, Hefty and Hyperdub spread over a five year period.
2011 marks the 10th anniversary of Dabrye’s debut album, and has also seen a resurgence of interest around his work, including a #freedabrye campaign on the internet that may or may not have anything to do with Ghostly and the news that he will be playing Low End Theory in November, so it seems like an appropriate time to go through the man’s catalogue and look at what it is that made his music so influential and inspiring.
Choosing 10 productions wasn’t easy but it was fun. And like all fun things in life we’re firm believers that they’re more fun with friends, so we asked a few people to pitch in with their own essential Dabrye productions to help FACT narrow it down to ten – special thanks to Illum Sphere (whose Hoya:Hoya club night Dabrye will be making his first UK appearance at later this month), Kutmah, Om Unit, Shigeto, Kelpe and broke for their suggestions.
There is also a Kutmah all-Dabrye mix currently still available on NTS Live’s archive which makes for the perfect accompaniment to this piece. Note also: these are not in any specific order and where possible we’ve added some additional recommends and chosen the instrumentals rather than vocal versions though you should check for both.