Artist: AyatollahTitle: Now PlayingRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Michael Pollock
Ayatollahs an amazing producer, but you can bet hes got one of the worst record collections youve ever seen. Its probably filled with sh*t hes 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, Ayatollahs 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; its 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 Ayatollahs ability to churn out full-scale compositions, not just hot tracks youre wondering what Ghostface would sound like over. The Devil Is Sweet uses skidding handclaps and whistles beneath an echoing of the songs 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 Whos The Song Is Over and loops Roger Daltreys refrain (This song is over/Im 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 youre walking down a long hallway trying to find what room the music is coming from. Its haunting, mature and incredibly moving. Best part? Theres not a rapper alive that could make it sound any sweeter than it already is.