erasing clouds

Sharkey, Sharkey's Machine

reviewed by ben rubenstein

Though they are the backbone of any good hip-hop record, DJs are often the low men on the totem pole when it comes to respect. MCs are usually the ones in the spotlight, and garner most of the attention for the music. Recently, though, producers have gotten increased recognition for their creation of inventive beats. Today's hottest producers have MC's lined up to work with them, and have begun releasing their own albums that feature instrumental as well as vocal tracks. RJD2, Prefuse 73, and The Opus are just a few up-and-coming DJs that have attracted major attention. And now, here's Sharkey, a man whose work is known throughout hip-hop due to collaborations with Eminem, Mario C (of the Beastie Boys) and others. His new album, Sharkey's Machine, is a mix of tracks that includes straight hip-hop, electronica, and rock and blues riffs. While not every track works, the album contains enough strong beats and hard-hitting MCs to build Sharkey's reputation to new heights.

While instrumental tracks can certainly show the extent of a DJ's prowess, the ways in which a producer matches his beats to the flows of certain MC's are a much better indicator of his versatility. Sharkey proves his worth with the help of many well-known rappers, from Vast Aire (of Cannibal Ox) to hot female MC Jean Grae. Though this CD is meant to showcase Sharkey's considerable skills, it is worth mentioning that some of the rappers end up stealing the show; the guest MC's drop witty, creative verses that make the album even more appealing.

The first proper track, "Fuzz", matches the gritty voice of Vast Aire with a choppy beat that rivals the great production that El-P provided on Cannibal Ox's debut. At first listen, Sharkey's style is clearly much less dark than some of the aforementioned DJs, and features a more traditional sound. However, his varied influences become clear throughout the rest of the album, and many tracks serve as evidence of his unique take on production. "Phone Sex" and "Little Cabin Song" feature a strong funk presence, with heavy bass lines and stuttering guitar and drums backing a number of talented MC's, including Cherrywine of Digable Planets. True to form, Sharkey varies his style from track to track, moving from street percussion ("Skateboarder's Blues) to horn-heavy ("A Typical Day in Sunny Washington D.C.") sounds to Moby-esque chanting interwoven with building guitar and drums ("Slo-Mo in the Grotto"). On "Here We Are", he even provides a beat for a pop singer, whose mellow voice works perfectly in tandem with Sharkey's looping drum patter, spacey organ, and hard-edged guitar.

Unfortunately, the final tracks of the album lack much of the energy and precision of earlier compositions, as Sharkey's experiments with salsa ("Snobird") and voice excerpts ("Zooks vs. Connery") don't quite work. However, these dull moments do not take away from the fact that Sharkey is clearly a masterful producer with an ear for interesting sounds, and he successfully melds rock, hip-hop, and electronica to create a compelling listen. His talents should continue to be in high demand thanks to the strength of this album.


Issue 22, April 2004

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