Now Playing

Artist: AyatollahTitle: Now PlayingRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Michael Pollock

Ayatollah’s an amazing producer, but you can bet he’s got one of the worst record collections you’ve ever seen. It’s probably filled with sh*t he’s never listened to twice, albums made up of 12 horrible songs and then that one track with that four-second soul sample he looped into a beat that just blew your mind. If you thought the best of those patchwork soundscapes got used up on “Ms. Fat Booty” and “The Life,” though, think again. On his instrumentals disc Now Playing (Nature Sounds), the Queens crate-digger has saved the best finds for himself.

As a beatsmith, Ayatollah’s technique feels cut-and-paste. A shot of low-end, a crisp snare, a crackled lifting of keys and/or horns. A sped-up vocal line. Some rolling drums every other measure. Thing is, it rarely fails. On “Platinum” and “Hold U,” the ingredients are transparent — “Hold U” sounds like a “Fat Booty” demo — but the product is fluid and hypnotic; it’s like watching someone bake cookies just to see the mixer turn the eggs and milk into tan paste.

What puts Now Playing> into Madlib/Jay Dee territory is Ayatollah’s ability to churn out full-scale compositions, not just hot tracks you’re wondering what Ghostface would sound like over. “The Devil Is Sweet” uses skidding handclaps and whistles beneath an echoing of the song’s title to get two effects at once: one of joy, the other of sadness. “Kingston” envisions reggaeton with more Hip-Hop, weaving Jamaican rhythms and Premier scratches into air-tight drumkicks. “I Wonder Why” borrows bits of strings and bluesy guitar to create reflection that mood-swings from high to low. Elsewhere, “This Song Is Over” flat-out steals the piano melody from The Who’s “The Song Is Over” and loops Roger Daltrey’s refrain (“This song is over/I’m left with only tears…”) into an endless fit of heartache.

But the real surprise is “Highway to Heaven.” Over a mid-tempo breakbeat, Ayatollah slowly works in a soft keyboard line and a pair of dueling angelic voices for a track that feels like that dream where you’re walking down a long hallway trying to find what room the music is coming from. It’s haunting, mature and incredibly moving. Best part? There’s not a rapper alive that could make it sound any sweeter than it already is.

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