|The Dirty Sample's Joshua’s Dreamixes|
I know, I know. This is like when you're a kid and you discover that your parents have a life outside of you and your siblings. You are obviously crushed, so I'll give you a moment to mourn and collect the pieces of your shattered preconceptions.
We good now? Good.
As a native of the rural American south, cultural ignorance is my birthright. Still, I have dedicated my life to at least attempting to rise above it. Part of this process involved discovering that things happen in places that are not here. "Here" in this case meaning both the States in general and my own little corner of America specifically.
However, I'll admit that it was the early 2000s before I discovered that Canada makes it's own unique brand of hip-hop. This was due in no small part to Swollen Members' Battleaxe b-sides compilation Monsters in the Closet. So when I was offered a chance by our friends at Hand'Solo Records to take a crack at prolific Canadian beatsmith The Dirty Sample's new Joshua's Dreamixes collection, which featured not only Moka Only but also the occasionally nerdcore-adjacent Jesse Dangerously and SJ the Wordburglar, I was more than happy to take a listen.
The album opens with the obligatory intro track. It's oddly surreal, so much so that it immediately reminded me of dub great Mad Professor. And while it didn't exactly grab me as a composition, it really does set the stage for the eclectic, trippy collection of tracks to follow. From there Dreamixes comes out swinging with a thickly layered, re-imagining of D-Sisive's moody (and originally guitar-heavy) "Brian Wilson," which, in turn, delicately decays into some more quality Canadian hip-hop in the form of Ok Cobra's "Fall Dumbass." It proves an early highlight pairing Cobra's fierce delivery with tinkling keys, but loses some inertia on the chorus wind-down.
Saskatoon-based MC Epic follows up with the odd "How Many (ft. Chadio)," a track that's greatly aided by the light-speed turntablism of The Phonograff. This unceremoniously shifts to "Yeah," an amazingly funky effort by Noah 23 that features the aforementioned Moka Only. It also boasts a sharp reggae cutaway that foreshadows some more light dub and dancehall elements yet to come. "None Missing" by Birdapres carries that same energy into an unexpected banger that's yet another undeniable masterpiece. Mindbender's "My Last Wish" concludes the album's first third with a spacey, almost spoken word-style jam atop a satisfying instrumental bedding.
The remix of "Many Many" by Eternia is so strong that makes me wonder how the fuck I managed to pass over the original on Hand'Solo's Hokey Religions & Ancient Weapons mixtape to begin with! It's quite possibly this collection's standout track, and it's an unlikely joint that manages to summarily remind me both of MC Lyte and 70s AM radio. This is followed by the bizarre "Anti-Cymbal Monkey Movement" by American duo Esh and CasUno, which has proven itself one of those cuts that I like more and more each time I hear it.
The Killaz "Flauge Godz" is another unholy musical union that falls equidistant between Dance Hall Crashers and Northern State. It's another highlight that features Ghetto Dice (not to be confused with Ghettosocks.) Then at the halfway point we make the jump across the Atlantic for another standout, the aggressive, airy yet slightly grimy "Hungry & Thirsty" by Smokey.
Royce Birth's "Back In Stereo" ensures that we won't be plagued by the dreaded mid-album slump with unbelievably swagger, a perfectly-layered beat and guest cuts by Peter Project. Cam with Wizzard's "Atrophy" is unusual and spacey, but it blends perfectly into The Dirty Sample's chosen backing. (Also I think it makes a couple of X-Men references, so, y'know, bonus points!)
There's sort of a strange transition to "Da da da da da da" by Manitoba's Royal-T, and, truth be told, the flow is so goddamn fast that you'll likely find yourself on the second chorus before you've had time to process what's going on. Still, it represents another fine flavor of hip-hop that easily sounds at home on Joshua's Dreamixes. Thankfully, we're given a chance to catch our breath with the smoothed out "Summertime Green" from Politic Live's Dirt Gritie. With sharp lyrics, plentiful hooks and another fine guest DJ, it also stands out among the album's best.
Touch's "Any Battle" plays a sharply metered flow off some equally sharp production – I love how the bulk of the beat pounds you from the left channel while the brass hits perfectly punctuate from the right – and Japanese MC ATOM's "Chai" manages to make heads bob even for those of us who don't speak the language. Then we head back to Toronto with Red Ants' "Seasons," an exquisitely aggressive anthem that hit me with the distinct aroma of punk rock even before I saw Modulok's ink.
"Tom Cruise" by Ira Lee begins the album's final descent with another slice of surreal lyricism and a plodding beat, and its follow-up is a totally key-heavy take on Jesse Dangerously's "The Prestidigitator" that kills the nigh iconic beat of the original but keeps its lusty spirit intact. Likewise, Dreamixes' last true musical track strips the spaghetti western spirit of Wordburglar's "The Route" in favor of a cleverly spliced together backing composed of heavy snare and warbling bass.
The album's "Outro" closes things out with Napoleon XIV, sirens and lots of reverb, and it serves to drive home to the listener what a completely fucked up experience this collection truly is. But I mean fucked up in a good way.
It's a bit hard to critique an album like Joshua's Dreamixes, as it simply tries to do so much. Still, once can't deny the fact that its producer, its source tracks and its numerous guests DJs all manage to deliver. Despite its dreamlike, almost experimental nature, it comes though as a tight and stunningly cohesive offering.
It's a fully international, wholly irrational collection that holds up well through rigorous, extended listening sessions (like my daily commute). Admittedly, a handful of the songs don't hold up so well when divorced from the album-proper, but the vast majority stand ably on their own even if they were obviously designed to be enjoyed as part of a whole.
Like an explosion in a record store Joshua's Dreamixes is the best kind of chaos. It combines vibrant, modern lyricism and solid production with a very classical, though at times challenging, ear for beats. Hip-hop heads (of the nerdy variety or otherwise) should be encouraged to seek it out, even those who, like me, may not be totally familiar with all of the original material presented. Likewise, those with a penchant for production-centered artistry like mash-ups will also likely feel right at home amongst the delicious sonic debris.
O Canada, you've done it again!