AraabMuzik on "Dream World" and the Beauty of the MPC

To study AraabMuzik (aka Abraham Orellana) on stage, either outdoors during a maze-like music festival or within the crypt of a hot-mess club, is to only vaguely comprehend the producer’s ability to manipulate and guide his Music Production Controller; the venerable Akai MPC. Perched in front of a pair of the mutated, decked-out drum machines—each about as big as a bulky, oversized Trapper Keeper—Araab, like so many DJs and producers, obscures his tricks, allowing tinny rapid-fire rhythms and splicing sample flourishes to provide the thrill rather than the techniques with which they’re produced.

Mega-name DJs performing pre-recorded sets are there to hype and be seen; however, Araab’s sets—though certainly not without flash—at least play in part like “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” occasions. That way, when you get home later, you’re impelled to track down YouTube clips to get more detailed understandings of his prowess (his ridiculous freestyle of “A Millie” recently pushed over two million views)

Living in a Dream World

Akai MPC2500

Akai MPC2500

But understanding AraabMuzik live, as well as in full-on improvising form, is very different than dissecting AraabMuzik on record—a distinction the producer is happy to acknowledge. “I pretty much have two sides. The live side is definitely my musician, drummer, Travis Barker side,” he explains. “In the studio and on album, that’s the time when I get into my Kanye West and Just Blaze side, using live instruments, bringing in people.” Case in point: Dream World (Empire), the new album that has been a long time coming for the 27-year-old producer.

First slated for release last year, the follow-up to 2011’s Electronic Dream was delayed as Araab dropped a pair of 2015 EPs, King and Goon Loops (and underwent surgery after being shot during an attempted robbery this past February in Harlem). Grander and more multitiered than anything he’s done, Dream World percolates with EDM. There’s little doubt that Araab, at least in part, believes, “That’s where the money is.” But musicality-wise, the self-proclaimed “MVP of the MPC” is so efficient at building tension via accelerating rhythms—tempered by his knack for creating space by letting samples breathe—that he very often plays into the genre’s sometimes ham-fisted bent for euphoric releases.

Pushing Boundaries

“For [Dream World] I wanted to work with new talent, produce new artists,” Araab notes. “Go the route of discovery versus pulling into the commercial artists. I’m always looking and always scouting spots like Soundcloud.” Indeed, the record’s lead single, “Chasing Pirates”—essentially a simmering remix of a Norah Jones track from the 2009 album The Fall—features little-known vocalist Raiche fluttering her celestial vocals over an Araab blend of billowing synths, subtle organ, and bass-tipped rhythms that are calculated and sparse in attack compared to the get-downs that populate more than half of his catalog.

AraabMuzik ft. Raiche - Chasing Pirates (Official Video)

Both the track and video play perfectly to the producer’s sometimes enigmatic air, his straight-billed cap tipped down to shield an icy gaze as he works the MPC with the nonchalant confidence of someone who feels he’s redefining the product of electronic music (make note of the man’s opulent white-gold MPC necklace, for one). Honing a skill like the ability to navigate with pinpoint accuracy the 16 square rubber pads of an MPC 2500—Araab’s admitted mid-range model of choice in the studio—no doubt brings with it the belief that boundaries are for shit. “I like to just do me and not follow the traditional format of other producers. Separate myself,” he makes clear. "I say, ‘I am one in seven billion.’"

I like to just do me and not follow the traditional format of other producers. Separate myself. I say, ‘I am one in seven billion.’"

Each fleeting broadcast of “You are listening to AraabMuzik” on Dream World—delivered by that same impassive, robotic female voice from previous efforts—feels substantial, particularly because many, including Araab himself, hypothesized that the long-delayed album may wind up squashed. An instrumental like the sleek, ominous opener “Adonis” is orchestrated to get from point A to point B without detours, while a monolithic track like “A.M.”—which includes a long-drawn siren near its end—shows Araab wielding the MPC to dubstep heights.

Not Just a Producer

Araab flaunts his skills as a drummer and percussionist through snare-roll-type crescendos, hammering at the pads and blurring his nimble fingers while building towards an inevitable drop of subterrestrial bass and hyper, slicing synths. Like its successors “Stadium House” and “Senor Breakfast” —a track featuring bass-music royalty Baauer—”A.M.” is representative of Araab’s want to popularize MPC production so that it fills out a stadium setting. It showcases his desire not to shrug off his roots in hip-hop but instead to demonstrate that the MPC need not only be relegated to battles and rapper collabs.

“It’s about time this project is out for the world to hear, and now I can move on to the next big thing,” Araab, not at his most forthright, cryptically says. Well, so what can be bigger for the producer than Dream World, an album whose title itself is ambitious as all get out? Hard to say, though it’s a safe bet that while Araab understands the nuts and bolts of the MPC like few other producers, he’s also well aware of what still needs conquering via his little black box.

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