AraabMuzik done all right for himself since the beginning of the decade, and he owes a lot of that to his ability to diversify. He’s an MPC-obliterating festival act, a trance-tweaking beatmaker of Electric Dream renown, and one of hip-hop’s underrated secret-weapon producers. It’s almost easy to forget that latter component of his resume, though, at least by comparison; when the EDM-adjacent buzz is throbbing almost as loud as the bassline, that’ll take publicity precedence over, say, contributing the bulk of a pretty good Cam’ron & Vado record.
But AraabMuzik still a beatmaker at the core, and even more so than the first installation, the sequel to last year’s For Professional Use Only has the feel of a more traditional beat tape. That comes with all the mixed blessings that traditional beat tapes tend to be defined by: here’s a direct feed to a producer’s unadorned, uninhibited style, one that drastically careens between a fun listen for enthusiasts and a utilitarian toolkit. It’s mixed, but it doesn’t really set scenes or moods. It’s a showcase for what makes his beats tick, but some moments feel incomplete and start to drag without actual MCs on the track. And even if his sound here swings further towards lower-key atmosphere better suited for box Chevys than rave tents, it’s not iconoclastic enough to drop any surprises in his source material, hip-hop’s Molly-hangover atmosphere, or his own discography in general.
As a complete front-to-back listen, AraabMuzik sound proves not all that exciting in this beat-tape form, where good loops—”Life” and its diamond-refraction chimes, the synth-string tension and trunk-denting bass bump of “808v”—never quite turn into good songs and flag a bit after four minutes of verseless midtempo inertia. When he does lay an extended vocal sample down, the constant repetition runs the risk of grinding out all the meaning and impact, like it does when the old The Education of Sunny Carson “I got to take him off o’ here” diatribe of the “260”/”The Bitch in Yoo” sample is cut through “White Collar”. Granted, straight-up instrumentals have their use; a clean 90 seconds of any of these tracks should keep a DJ set near peak highs, and every hip-hop radio station needs bumper music, but don’t expect them to jump to the foreground and demand your attention unless you’re a mixtape rapper in freestyle-candidacy mode. The form here is more Instrumental University than the first FPUO, with a bit of difference-splitting that still acknowledges the way he’s molded trance divas and hoover synths into his own building blocks the way a previous generation’s producers upended R&B.
But that’s only sort-of-bad news, really, and the moody-EDM vibe that his originals and remixes thrive off is still welcome enough. Tracks like “Don’t Pretend 1.5” (Super8 & Tab’s “Black Is Back” sifted through a foggy trap drumroll) and “Ghost Story” (a canny midtempo gothification of JES’ “Ghost (Deepsky Club Mix)”) pull some deep comedowns off minor-key melancholy, noir counterpoints (and counterparts) to the more blissed-out purveyors of cloud rap. What’s left during the less mind-blowing moments, then, is an opportunity to bask in AraabMuzik craft, pick up on how he still has a way of building and breaking down beats. Even his straight-up loops have a structure that’s worth soaking in, where wallpapery bass churn conceals artfully timed snare rolls and skyscraper synths are built on a foundation of piston-punch drums.
Some of this material has already been successfully field-tested. “Money Talks” dropped as a Fabolous showcase on last year’s Funkmaster Flex release Who You Mad At? Me or Yourself?, and it made for a solid dose of vintage East Coast soul-loop flow accompaniment. “Keep 100” came out a couple months back as a Slaughterhouse cut, where its combination of spacey prog loops and concussion-causing drums made for a powerful shit-talk backdrop. And there are already a host of hopefuls who tackled “Ghost Story” and the Halloween car alarm banger “Black Out” when they were Soundcloud releases and made their own rap tracks over them. Maybe that’s the real benefit of this record: motivating others into new levels of their own professionalism.