An etheric journey into the heart of Oneness, “Sweet Storms,” the new solo release by DJ Drez, is an expectation and genre defying mystical exploration of sound and life. An aural glimpse into the late-night journal and musings of the Sound Ambassador, this follow up to his 2015 release “Alpine Swift” is a rare opportunity to hear from the man himself who normally lets the beats do the talking.
Highly experimental, “Storms” is a triumphant departure from the drum-driven, instrumental vibe that has been the cornerstone of DJ Drez’ 25+ year illustrious career in underground hip hop, reggae, mantra and electronic music. From the first press of “play,” the listener is swept up and away into an often dreamy, synth-laden, ambient realm, deliciously interlaced with lyrics and vocal voyaging carefully crafted through atmospheric filters and effects.
The album’s mission statement and perhaps musical and emotional climax arrive on “Feel it All.” Through an eerie, distant, vocal distortion, Dr. Ez drones, “We’re here to live so we can feel it all.” The embracing of all experience in this human trip through an awakened heart of love, resolves all apparent opposites into a coherent whole – One. Almost undetectable fuzzy synthesizer loops in the background, as marimba with a psychedelic sustain melts into piano and orchestral strings. Symphonic symbols arrive mid-song to announce the 808 beat drop and bass line reminiscent of the Drez we have become accustomed to, yet atypical for the album as a whole.
Not only on “Feel It All,” but throughout “Sweet Storms,” EZ’s lyrics themselves dance in and out the spotlight, sometimes an accent, other times melting into an intentionally undistinguishable mind melt, and yet often clearly up front.For someone who’s first foray into lyricism came only one album ago, Drez proves his ever-pioneering and boundary pushing ability utilizing his voice as protagonist and also, slyly, as another layer of ethereal instrumentation.
“Storms” is blissfully unpredictable, occasionally suggesting non-linearity and always a textured multidimensionality from a song structure and production perspective, much like life itself. On “I Don’t Know,” a duet with long-time musical accomplice and partner, Marti Nikko, the pair aren’t actually singing together, but the vocals are mirrored and echoed by the other, in turn, lurking shadow-like just under the lead. While both Drez and Nikko have a solo verse, the track and their presences meld into a coherent feeling of one through the OG Innovator’s mixing. While completely absent throughout the cut, a bangin’ drum track comes in as the outro for the final 30 seconds – the feel both anticipatory, sublime and somewhat unorthodox as the beat fades into silence.
Atonal synthesizer, simple clicks, and sparse bass propel “Girl,” a lyrically sensual track, deeper into the dream-like feel of the album. Two-thirds of the way in, staccato stand-up bass and violin punctuate Drez’ description of the losing one’s conception of self in intimacy with another. The violin then joins the original instrumentation and carries the song to completion.
This theme of oneness is whispered throughout lyrically, yet perhaps is most clearly felt in the uniqueness and coherence of the complete whole of thefeelof the album.Repeated listens unveil more brilliant nuance and wonder as what seemed strangely simple and minimal continually reveals itself as rich and cunningly complex.The pairing of Drez’ vocals and vocal content with the electronic wizardry and genius production can conjure what often feels simultaneous paradoxical sentiment - joyful, optimistic and celebratory yet also somehow moody, evocative and melancholy.At times the listener can feel a sense of urgency and earnestness while also ease, lightness, and even playfulness. This is the work of a master at his craft, the ability to take something so deeply personal and bless it to be universal in reach, giving each listener permission to feel, explore and have a unique experience and understanding.
Perhaps the most poignant musical alchemy arrives on “On My Own,” a track clearly venturing into the highest realm of spiritual liberation. Lyrically and sonically, this grand triumph of divine reunion on the graspable horizon is paired with the feeling of solitude of the inner journey, an almost haunting vocal bending effect, sparse piano as both lead and bass and understated, psychedelic dub-like accents. “I’m slipping through portals / to normal immortal,” DJ Drez almost understates, leaving us with a most poignant teaching and the seed of suggestion, revealing the nature of oneness and normalizing mysticism through the medium of sound.
--John Smrtic www.bhaktigrooveyoga.com
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Explorers of Infinity (February 28, Nectar Drop Records) is the latest release from Marti Nikko and DJ Drez. This new collection represents another sonic landmark in the evolving collaboration between these two yogis, artists and lovers. Producing a sound both familiar and ever-fresh, Drez and Marti continue to entangle their talents to create anthemic tracks that linger with the listener long after the song is over.
Endings arose as a potent theme as the album was recorded and produced in the couple’s home studio throughout 2016. For many of us, 2016 was a year of traumatic losses and sudden change as cycles came crashing to a close before the any sense of what next could congeal.
Collectively, we faced the deaths of too many paradigm-shattering artists. In their personal sphere, Marti and Drez also dealt with the devastating loss of dearly loved ones. The title of this project, Explorers of Infinity, alludes to the ineffable realm where these beings now dwell. It also speaks to the internal process of the yogi/artist, seeking to make internal sense of external suffering, exploring the limitless opportunities life offers to transmute pain into beauty and back again.
Directly reflecting the year in which it was created, a mournful tone permeates the album and finds counterpoint in moments of explosive intensity. The title track aches with gentle pain. Nikko’s voice alights sweetly, sadly over simple but potent piano notes most reminiscent of a Gil-Scott Heron-style jazz.
The mood is full of mourning but also the innate strength necessary to address suffering face-to-face. The mahamantra at the center of this song embodies the alternating currents of connection and separation — hare krsna, hare krsna shows the unification of lover and beloved; krsna krsna, hare hare shows the separation needed if there is to be space in which to dance. This incessant flux of oneness and otherness is a tidy summary of the human experience; it is the simultaneous source of all pain, all joy.
When the delicate suffering of “Explorers of Infinity” ends, like a feather settling to the earth, the album thunders into action with ground-shaking “Ganapati.” Suddenly there are drums, and a [sitar] riff portending imminent battle or upliftment. Chants of “Hey!” are a call to awaken from the slumber of mourning, a call to action. The invocation of Ganesha, the great remover of obstacles, invites boldness, and as the bass line drops into nimble bija mantra repetitions, the choice is clear. There is no time now for sullen self-pity; the only noble option is to carry on with greater fervor than ever before.
The impulse to combine such drastically contrasting moods arose partly from the experience of leading public workshops, wherein Nikko will guide a group through a given mantra in a very sweet, loving fashion before reproducing that same mantra with fierce passion and violence. The same way we humans contain within us all that is both powerful and meek, the mantras can be a vehicle for accessing every dark corner of ourselves and bringing it to light. The music presented on Explorers of Infinity reflects this and itself serves as a potent guide through the process of excavation, catharsis and resolution.
As fans of Marti and Drez will expect, Explorers of Infinity dances around the world of music. “Jai Sri Radhe" opens the album with a distinctly hiphop feel, with snappy snare hits and a steady hi-hat underlying Nikko’s soulful mantra variations. “Nataraja” is pure reggae, guaranteed to infect the brain with sattvic mantras whether or not you can accurately pronounce all the Sānskrit. “Bom Bom Shankara" engages a deep, slow dub-style decorated with jazzy saxophone solos.
Although there is an intelligent jazz sensibility demonstrated throughout the album, for this writer the key word is soul. The musical influences are diverse, but every single track is evidence of an authentically heart-felt intent to express a specific rasa, an essential flavor of feeling that cannot be forced or faked. It can only arise from the very experience of fury or despair, disgust or delight. The supreme source of such profoundly felt emotion is that ephemeral entity humans call soul. Marti Nikko consistently brings this element to bear, and Drez is just skillful enough to capture it, add musical context and publish it for posterity.
The album closes with a Nikko/Drez original composition called “Coming Home.” This sweet, ethereal piece honors those who have passed on from this realm, as well as those seeking an eternal home within themselves while still here. Continuing the exploration started on their previous album Alpine Swift, Drez contributes lyrics and baritone vocals to complement Marti Nikko’s soprano peaks.
It is a fitting conclusion to the album — intensely emotional, potentially sad but essentially hopeful. The lyrics seek to reframe the experience of death (be it physical, egoic, or otherwise) not as a loss, but as a return.
Lao-Tzu is commonly quoted as saying, “Birth is an exit; death an entrance.” In that context, we can feel reassured. The seemingly insane cycles encircling the world at the moment are little more than cosmic in-breath; our entire lives nothing but an out-breath. Our attempts to fix and solve leave us gasping for air until we are reminded to stop in the stillness at the top (or bottom) and catch our breath before the next exit. Once again, Marti Nikko and DJ Drez have created a soundtrack capable of providing such a reminder. Find it wherever you buy music. ~ David McConaghay
Welcome inside the mind of DJ Drez.
Soaring to new heights with his latest solo release, “Alpine Swift,” the Sound Ambassador invites us into his world of sonic seduction and sensuality as never before. Perhaps more personal and intimate than any prior release yet at the same time universally accessible and particularly relevant, the legendary LA-based beat maker and vibe-provider has crafted a slick, head-nodding soundtrack for the human experience. This union of seeming opposites is a thread that Drez brilliantly and effortlessly weaves throughout this musical tapestry as he also comingles old school roots with new school sensibility, etheric moods with boomin’, earthen, bass frequencies, spaciousness with fullness and even mystery and revelation.
“Alpine Swift” is incredibly thick with mood and feeling and this sultry, palpable aspect makes the album stand out as an instant electronic classic. In fact, Drez has more than upheld his underground handle Dr. Ez as the good Doc is clearly beyond graduate level in synesthesia - the experience of a sense impression through a mechanism other than the one receiving. The first words on the opening track, “Givin You Somthin,” make a prophetic declaration that might just be Drez’ mission statement - “I feel this sound.” Rare is a musician who can truly feel sound. Peerless may be the one who can transmit that experience to the listener. DJ Drez does just that on the self-released gem dropping on June 6, 2016.
Those first words are unique and delightfully foreshadowing as well, in that this album marks the first time ever that Drez steps out from behind the turntables and production side and up to the mic. Whether in sublime sample-like phrases that out-slick today’s dopest electronic and hip hop DJs, hooks that you will find yourself singing long after the record ends, and even poetry and rhyme that is profound, personal and mystical, Drez finding his voice for this monumental release will not only wildly please his long-time legions of fans, but will most definitely earn him countless new admirers and beat-bumpers across many musical genres.
Like the bird the album is named after, DJ Drez dazzles with his ability to stay elevated above trends, making timeless beats for the club, between the sheets and even for yoga practice. The Alpine Swift can stay in flight for up to seven months at a time, living mainly in the air and even sleeping and eating while flying. With a bird’s eye view and an ear to the streets, Ez does it again, flying to multi-dimensional levels of astral frequency, while keeping the headlights in the rearview mirror spiraling in deep, concentric circles. Like the title track infectiously suggests, Drez delivers and keeps us chanting, “Take me higher!”
With a clear emphasis on a more downtempo electronic sound, soulful wisdom and feel, a confident straddling of the spiritual and material realms and a wicked 808 presence throughout effortlessly links the other sonic modalities, including some of the most bangin’ hip hop beats to hit the scene in years (title track “Alpine Swift” and “Out There”). In characteristic Drez style, dub stylings, trap sprinklings and Jahta Beat spiciness subtly dance throughout the release as well.
No journey into the world of DJ Drez would be complete without the powerful voice and presence of his partner-in-crime, Marti Nikko. While technically a solo release, the addition of Nikko’s vocal flavorings makes “Alpine Swift” deliciously complete. Her nectar-like vocals, highlights and even duets, pose the perfect complement to Drez’ foray into MC’ing, particularly on stand out tracks “Into Space,” “Start,” and “Light Me Up.” Nikko also shines and delivers perhaps the most powerful message of the album on the track “Us,” putting everyone on notice, over a slammin’ electro hip hop beat, that she and Ez are taking over the airwaves. “Ya’ know you heard of us,” echoes knowingly through the sound system.
If ya’ don’t know, now ya’ know.
DREAMING IN SANSKRIT
DJ Drez’s music has been moving bodies for more than two decades. His sound is an organic blend of mystical hip-hop, reggae roots and Indian raga that has been known to instigate an ecstatic dance party one instant, and soothe a group into a meditative savasana the next.
If you’re a fan of Drez, you’ve undoubtedly noticed the mysterious, seductive voice of Marti Nikko gracing dozens of the albums, tracks and remixes he’s released over his prolific career. A longtime collaborator of Dr. EZ (and also, his wife), Nikko steps into the spotlight with her debut album, Dreaming In Sanskrit, from Black Swan Sounds.
Featuring the production and turntable expertise of DJ Drez, it definitely bears his funky signature, but the record is undeniably Nikko-centric. Marti’s enticing, fiercely soft voice floats above a diverse collection of musical styles and patterns ranging from dub roots to Indian hymn to Balkan beats and back again, but the unifying thread is a spirit of love and devotion.