Hip-hop vet still finding new ways to shape the music world
DJ Muggs is so much more than just a hip-hop producer. Most hip-hop heads know Muggs from his heyday in the ’90s, when he was the architect behind the emphatic beats of Cypress Hill and a frequent collaborator of many of the decade’s essential artists, from House of Pain to Janet Jackson. Muggs’ contagious (and often dark) beatmaking style is forever woven into the fabric of hip-hop history. But The Black Goat isn’t content with past successes.
Enter Dies Occidendum, Muggs’ third full-length release without the help of his Soul Assassins collective. Fusing hip hop with electronica, lofi and horrorcore, Dies Occidendum sees Muggs find success with an entirely new, genreless sound that’s sure to make your skin crawl. The veteran producer doesn’t miss a step, continuing to shatter musical boundaries with ingenious sound design and production sheen.
Opener “Incantation” kicks off Dies Occidendum with sing-songy vocals paired with some absolutely spine-tingling chords from a grainy keyboard, conjuring up images of old black-and-white horror films. But soon after, a monstrous sub-bass enters and signals that this is a DJ Muggs record and not the soundtrack to Psycho.
Combining hip-hop elements with a creepy, lofi mood, Muggs masterfully tows the line between the conventional and the unconventional. On “The Chosen One,” kicks, hi hats and sub-bass are combined with a soft, eerie piano loop that gives the track a horrorcore cadence while still sounding like hip-hop.
But beyond its sound, Dies Occidendum also has a different feel than traditional hip-hop. While hip-hop canon would dictate that rap beats are supposed to be upbeat and energetic, these mixes are anything but; they stutter, creep, crawl and slither along, beckoning to listeners to stay for a while.
Sometimes, if you squint, Muggs’ beats are reminiscent of an Odd Future sound; the tracks “Veni Vidi Amavi” and “Anointed” would make Tyler, The Creator or Earl Sweatshirt feel right at home with their dark, bass-heavy sound. Other times, they’re off-the-walls zany and creative, like the track “Liber Null,” with its synths taking on a cavernous quality and its hi hats distorted to sound like the slithering, creeping sound of a rattlesnake.
One of the album’s few missteps comes on the grimy “Anicca,” where Muggs samples a wonky screaming effect that’s just a tiiiiny bit annoying. But it’s still not enough to derail the track, which maintains an eerie mood and fluid texture. The other gaffe comes on understated closer “Transmogrification,” three quarters of which consists of crickets chirping and fire crackling. But this too can be forgiven, as it provides the listener with somewhat of a cooldown from the heavy sound on the rest of the project. And in a way, the pronounced silence is unsettling in its own right.
DJ Muggs is responsible for more than a few home runs over his lengthy career, and he’s hit another one here, albeit with an entirely new approach. Dies Occidendum has a decidedly magnetic quality to it, pulling people in and keeping them within its grasp. And it’s tangible proof that DJ Muggs is anything but one-dimensional.