Montreal born and Toronto raised producer Emay, also known as Mubarik Adams, works in the thick of uncharted sampling territory. Whereas the majority of hip-hop productions cultivate the discographies of jazz, soul, and funk for sound sources, there are few producers that have endeavored to work outside these crates by borrowing from other musics to create new hip-hop sounds.
Like his predecessors Flying Lotus and cLOUDDEAD, Emay is less a recyclist of physical records than digital ones, less a student of the “hip-hop” tradition than “musical tradition” in general, and favors “cool sound” over sample snobbery. His curiosity with sound has lead him to explore esoteric shoegaze records, alternative rock, and other less often sampled genres of music.
Sampling outside the jazz soul and funk canon raises many questions about what exactly hip-hop is. And the question is not only historical, but sonic: at what point does “experimental” hip-hop start to sound like electro, glitch, rock, dub, house, trip-hop, or whatever other genre it borrows from? Emay’s brand of experimental hip-hop (which he calls on his bandcamp page “alternative hip-hop, indie, instrumental, downtempo, electronica, experimental hip-hop, instrumental,” and “soundtrack hip-hop”), illustrates how the difference between sample-based “experimental hip-hop” and sample-based “experimental hip-hop music” is sometimes less a difference that arises from what is sampled, than it is a difference that arises from how the samples are pieced together.
His recent project Emay, Karen O, and the Kids, is built entirely from the post-rock lo-fi bedroom indie rock aesthetic of the original soundtrack, yet hip-hop lives in the soul/funk derived break beat that Emay holds steady beneath a fabric of layered sounds that he borrows from outside the hip-hop idiom. The result is music unlike anything you’ve heard before that remains somehow familiar and relateable. It’s something you might expect Warp to eat up.
We sat down with Emay to discuss experimental hip-hop, his fascination with the sounds of shoegaze, and how he fits previously unsampled music into a modern hip-hop tradition that is distinctly his own.
CUS: Your work is derived from unconventional sources in the world of hip-hop sample-based production. Your instrumental project Emay, Karen O, and the Kids, for instance, samples from the Spike Jones film Where The Wild Things Are and the accompanying lo-fi folk-rock soundtrack. What gave you this idea?
Emay: I got the idea from listening to the soundtrack and watching the movie pretty much. It also reminded me of when I used to read that as a kid in the library.
CUS: Your forthcoming LP will take another unconventional turn because it samples entirely from the shoegaze band Slowdive. Tell me about your infatuation with shoegaze.
Emay: With shoegaze I love the idea of music being something you can drown into. Atmospheric music is similar, but it isn’t as rhythmic as shoegaze at all. So it’s the combination of rhythm and atmosphere that I love.
CUS: For me it’s always been the imagery of stoned out bands staring down at their shoes and effects pedals …
Emay: Yeah, I think it’s a very dope concept that reflects the music one hundred percent. It’s the type of music you can close your eyes to.
CUS: Is most of the music you sample from guitar-oriented alt rock and indie rock?
Emay: When I started out I was pretty closed-minded because I talked to a lot of closed-minded people, people who would only sample soul and funk. But, honestly, I liked a lot of that stuff, but I wanted more. I felt it was missing something, so I expanded my listening horizons and now I listen to an immense amount of stuff, which also gradually changed what I like to sample. I still sample soul and stuff, but I seem to be working with alt rock a lot more lately.
CUS: Yet your music still sounds like hip-hop or at least a cousin of, mostly because of the breaks you use. “Igloo” for instance, is still something you can bob your head to even though it has a washy quality. “Douche Lincons” is also a little more traditional, but it has a really nice lagging kind of sound, similar to the lo-fi “Sleep.” It stumbles a bit, kinda like it’s woozy and drunk.
Emay: [Laughs] Yeah, that’s when I record my drums like an mpc. I don’t have an actual mpc, but I use my keyboard as an actual MIDI controller.
CUS: Yes, the mpc is only visually iconic these days.
Emay: And really expensive. When I get enough money I’ll want one, but only for live sets really. Using an actual keyboard gives me unlimited sample chops.
CUS: Because they’re so noise ridden, do you find the samples more difficult to chop up and splice together?
Emay: You’d think so, but that’s why I focused on Slowdive specifically. I love other shoegaze bands too, but Slowdive is extremely melodic. So it’s easy to pick apart certain chord changes etcetera. I do have problems chopping up their more lo-fi stuff.
CUS: Even to isolate a drum sound would be very difficult.
Emay: It takes a lot of patience, but it’s time I have, so I’m okay with it. Slowdive has a lesser known project called I Saw The Sun which is pretty much unreleased material and demos, so everything on there is extremely “dirty.” My first single “Sleep” is an example that samples from
Slowdives version, “Sleep.” I love it. It’s a really awesome soundscape. I was able to take it and make it darker. I did a lot of work on that sample to make sure it blends well. [Plays “Sleep”]
CUS: Oh yeah, this is much more clean than say, “Allison.” Is all the extra atmospheric noise from you adding effects, or is it from sample layering?
Emay: In the sense that there are less instruments yes, but the recording for “Allison” is a lot more high quality. So it’s from both of those. I add a lot of layers of the same sample and slightly modify each layer accordingly. And also add effects on top of all that.
CUS: I hear live or live programmed drums in here, too. Do you do all this on a DAW?
Emay: Yeah, it’s layered with both types of drums. Mostly live drums sample from other songs, programmed drums from industry kits. And I do all of it in Fruity Loops.
CUS: When should we expect your new Slowdive album?