Abstract Heavyweight

DJ Krush's contemplative beats.

These days, it seems that everyone wants to climb to the top of the beat-making heap. They want their car, clothes, cash, and props. But the real contenders in this oversaturated game don't fall for the trappings of hip-hop's extroverted and sometimes perverse exterior. They have the intuition to travel inward, toward the contemplative and abstract. This is where the true essence lies, where real battles are fought, and where progress is made.

Japan's aptly named DJ Krush is a heavyweight in the business of beats, and like a true champion, he understands that the only battle he must concern himself with is the mastery of his craft.

Krush's Zen-like, and oftentimes cinematic, approach to his turntablism and production techniques has won him global respect throughout the hip-hop community and beyond, influencing an array of labels and artists ranging from the gritty underground beats of Def Jux recordings to the heady soundscapes of Massive Attack. Krush has had a serious impact on the way contemporary beats are arranged and produced—which is no small feat for someone who started as a bedroom DJ in Tokyo.

For his latest release, DJ Krush has mutated the idea of a "best of" record and reworked songs from his back catalog for a double-CD/ vinyl release called Stepping Stones: The Self-Remixed Best. The first disc, Lyricism, features vocals by exceptionally talented artists Krush has worked with, including the Roots, Mos Def, Zap Mama, CL Smooth, Company Flow, Esthero, Rino & Twigy, and Aesop Rock. This album perfectly illustrates the legacy that DJ Krush has built with a crew of talented contemporaries spread across the globe, with feet firmly planted in hip-hop's roots. The second disc, Soundscapes, is a compilation of remixed instrumental tracks, including collaborations with DJ Shadow, ?uestlove, and trumpet player Kazufumi Kodama.

Hideaki Ishii, aka DJ Krush, got his start in the mid-'80s, like many, being inspired by the classic hip-hop film Wildstyle. Taking his original old-school influences such as Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash and combining them with his respect for the live intuition of soul and jazz greats like James Brown and Miles Davis, Krush helped pioneer a much more complex and cerebral musical language within a construct that was originally born of boasting at parties in the Bronx. By the mid-'90s, this new approach, with its intelligently broken beats, detached textures, and hypnotic samples folded in with live musicians and thoughtful arrangements, paved the way to what eventually came to be labeled as down-tempo breakbeat, instrumental hip-hop, or "trip-hop." Though the term "trip-hop" has often been lazily used, it did signify a paradigm shift in the psyches of many hip-hop listeners.

The evolving mind-sets of listeners at large, as well as Krush's jazzlike musical insight, gave him recognition beyond Japan, particularly with James Lavelle and his Mo'Wax label. Strictly Turntablized, the follow-up to Krush's trend- setting debut, Krush, solidified his launch into the future curve of progressive beats.

Throughout the '90s and into the new millennium, Krush continued a healthy output of releases, all with his signature thread of moody atmospherics that runs through all of his recordings. He went on to collaborate with some serious A-list talent, such as Guru of Gangstarr, DJ Shadow, Sly and Robbie, and trumpeter Toshinori Kondo. And he has put his personal touch on remixes for Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Bill Laswell, and Method Man—the credits keep stacking up.

Though many producers have come after Krush and have appropriated his ideals into their own winning formulas, Krush has forever influenced the landscape of beats with the raw beauty and thoughtfulness of his compositions. If you've ever sat transfixed by the abstract minimalism of an ambient kick and snare loop, you must pay tribute.


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