Jan. 5 2010 07:08 PM

2010 looks promising for underground producers, especially in Southern California


The Gaslamp KillerNow that the oughties are officially dead and gone, the time has come to wipe the slate clean and never look back on that wretched decade.

OK, maybe that's too harsh. Some great things happened in pop music during the past 10 years, but rather than wax nostalgic about how the Internet permanently altered the music industry or what songs defined a generation, let's keep our sights set on the future. There's already tons to be excited about for 2010, and from what I've observed, much of it revolves around hip-hop producers. In L.A. Yes, really.

First of all, I'm holding out hope that L.A.-by-way-of-San Diego DJ The Gaslamp Killer will finally release a full-length album, because his recent mixes suggest he's the heir to DJ Shadow—an obsessive record nerd and meticulous producer who has the skills to make instrumental hip-hop that's actually interesting.

Along with the loose Brainfeeder conglomerate (including Flying Lotus, Ras G, Samiyam and others), many of which double as “labrats” (read: DJs) for nonprofit web radio station Dublab.com, Gaslamp Killer has been pivotal in showing that hip-hop music has only just scraped the surface when it comes to sampling possibilities and production techniques.

Brainfeeder is also becoming recognized for innovative live events, like producer Nosaj Thing's new visual show, which features abstract films produced by Fair Enough that are synched in time with his performance (he plays at The Loft @ UCSD on Saturday, Jan. 9, if you're interested). With any luck, this'll help put an end to the idea that electronic shows are boring because “it's just some dude fiddling with his laptop.”

Why this rejuvenated enthusiasm for beat makers, you ask? It was initially sparked by my recent acquisition of producer Dam-Funk's Toeachizown, a debut double-CD (or five-LP!) on Stones Throw, which went almost entirely unnoticed by a music press too busy scrambling to compile numerous year- and decade-end lists.

It's as if all the time I've spent listening to '80s R&B jams on FM radio has paid off, and Toeachizown's analog thump is my end reward. Imagine Zapp's “More Bounce to the Ounce” and the woozy synths on Prince's “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” played over and over again by Computer World-era Kraftwerk and you have an idea of what he's up to. Dam made it to San Diego only once in '09; I hope he triples that number this year.

And in an unlikely crossover move, the L.A.-based funk maestro worked with bedroom disco queen Nite Jewel, someone I'm also psyched about for the coming year. Their collaboration, Nite Funk, arose when the two were invited to work together as part of Xlr8r.com's “Tune in an Afternoon” series, and the result was “Am I Gonna Make It,” a little slice of ad-libbed groove heaven.

Meanwhile, Stones Throw's resident genius hip-hop producer Madlib continues his insane rate of productivity, helming every single beat for West Coast rap crew (and mixtape superstars) Strong Arm Steady's official debut, In Search of Stoney Jackson, before launching a once-a-month mixtape series of his own, Madlib Medicine Show.

And his Madvillain collaboration with MF Doom is rumored to have an album in the works, as well. If it's anywhere near as good as 2004s Madvillainy, it's the odds-on favorite for best hip-hop album of the year, holding equal appeal for indie nerds and rap fanatics.

However, if Detroit upstart Black Milk has anything to say about it, his forthcoming solo album will snatch that honor. His humbly titled new effort, Album of the Year, is due out in the first half of 2010, and judging by the massive chopped-up live drumming and visceral flows on its first preview track, “Keep Going,” this is poised to be the 26-year-old MC / producer's break-out year.

But even if the solo thing doesn't propel him to wider stardom, Black Milk's Random Axe venture with underground vets Sean Price and Guilty Simpson is also due to release a debut, which promises to be gritty, to say the least.

Personally, I'd like to see an unironic funk resurgence in 2010, led by Dam-Funk and fellow R&B freaks Sa-Ra Creative Partners, however unlikely that may seem. A man can dream, can't he?    Write to toddk@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.


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