When Tricky released his extraordinary 1995 debut, "Maxinquaye," he seemed to be another British studio prodigy using the techniques of stateside hip-hop to create something very different from his American models. Yet Tricky has always maintained that he's a hip-hopper, and--beginning with 1996's "Tricky Presents Grass Roots"--has collaborated with American rappers.
On his new "Juxtapose" (Island), the Bristol-bred musician actually shares the billing with producers DJ Muggs (Cypress Hill) and Grease (Ruff Ryders, DMX) and frequently yields the vocals to two new cohorts, rapper Mad Dog (from British rap group London Posse) and singer Kioka.
For Tricky to alternate his gruff chants with a female vocalist is his customary strategy. On his previous albums, that vocalist was Martina Topley-Bird, who was working on a solo album when "Juxtapose" was being recorded. Mad Dog's rapid-fire raps, however, offer a new sort of contrast to Tricky's music, which is brooding, deliberate and densely textured--all qualities that owe more to Jamaican dub (and its British interpreters) than to American hip-hop. Still, Mad Dog's style seems less incongruous than the content of his raps; "I Like the Girls," for example, features a porn-flick scenario as crass as the backing track is sophisticated.
Such Mad Dog banter seems particularly odd since "Juxtapose" opens with "For Real," Tricky's critique of gangsta rap. The performer is known for his criticism of the music business--that was a major theme of last year's "Angels With Dirty Faces"--but "For Real" turns its analysis on hip-hoppers who glorify violence and greed. "You watch too many films," Tricky suggests. "Yeah, I'm a playa hater/ I hate when playas can't take their turn."
Despite Mad Dog's shopworn themes, "Juxtapose" has little in common musically with the assembly-line work of the rappers "For Real" critiques. The album includes no identifiable samples or predictable shuffles but lots of guitar, electronic timbres and skittering beats. Indeed, it owes as much to rock and art-disco as to hip-hop. While the sung portions of "Contradictive" suggest an updated Doors ballad and "Call Me" is a slo-mo duet for forlorn vocalist and dirty guitar, "She Said" knits a speedy, spacey electro-conga rhythm into the slow, smoky groove.
The spark that animates Tricky's music may be hip-hop, but the only formula at work on "Juxtapose" is his own. And that sounds more vital than it has since "Maxinquaye."
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8153.)