Araabmuzik's Dream World Is Your Reality
The producer goes inside the making of his new LP 'Dream World': being the target of senseless violence, dealing with the music business, and breaking stereotypes.
Photo by William Bond
On the other end of the line, I can sense producer AraabMuzik growing wearisome.
Each of his answers is becoming shorter and more curt, and for good reason: I’m starting to broach a subject that his camp specifically warned me not to bring up. I’m not doing so intentionally; as we’ve dived deeper into the creation of his newest album, Dream World, we’ve begun to move past the musical side of things and more into its emotional significance. This is touchy territory for the 27-year-old beat maker, known for his dazzling ability to play an MPC sampler as well as Jimmy Page did a guitar, as only four months ago he was shot during an attempted robbery in a parking garage in Harlem. Supposedly he left his hospital bed after only a week to finish the record.
The shooting was Araab’s second brush with death in less than four years; in 2013, he was shot in his hometown of Providence, R.I., during another attempted robbery. While certain artists use their near-death experiences as fodder for their work—Compton rapper Y.G. and his excellent new album Still Brazy being a recent example—Araab has no interest in being known for anything beyond his musical ability. As I sense him seizing up on the phone, I decide to get things out in the open and ask why that’s the case.
“There’s really not much to speak on [with] something like that,” he says with a heavy sigh, “especially when you’re the victim.”
Rather than resurface the emotions tied to being a target of senseless violence, Araab seemingly wants to keep his attention on the goal at hand, which has been the same since he first picked up drumsticks as a kid in Providence: to be a professional musician.
That means not letting anything else get in the way of playing shows or making songs—not even bullets to the jaw. This determination has garnered the drum machine virtuoso plenty of success thus far. After being discovered at age 17 by Dipset’s Duke Da God and contributing beats to projects by 50 Cent, A$AP Rocky, Busta Rhymes, and Cam’Ron, he’s had a second wave of fame as an EDM and pop producer, chopping up bro’d-out dance hits by artists like Deadmau5 and Kaskade in his MPC and replaying them in more a subtle and airy manner. Dream World is an extension of this sound, diving further into the neon-bright culture of sweaty dance festivals and getting lost in the bass.
In an interview with Pitchfork in 2012, Araab stated that he had “graduated” from hip-hop, referring to the genre as simply a fun pastime compared to the “major stuff” of dance music. His words were perhaps brash and overly eager; he’s continued to produce hip-hop, including the entire upcoming project by Jersey rapper Joe Budden. What’s more, much of the drum sequencing on Dream sounds more like beefed-up breaks than the standard kick-snare patterns of EDM. Even as his he still draws from the sound, however, he gets restless when it’s brought up. The special moments he’s had with the genre, like when he blew Busta’s mind to smithereens in the studio in 2010 with his MPC skills, were meaningful, sure. But now he’s looking beyond the gritty sample-based sound of New York for inspiration. “I like to broaden it up,” he tells me simply.
From a business perspective, it makes sense for Araab to continue down this path. His transformation from a young East Coast beat smith in the early 2000s to a significant name in dance music has taken him around the world and back. Other prominent hip-hop producers, like DJ Mustard and Just Blaze (whom Araab was recently taped in the studio with), are just starting to make this transition, but neither of which can do what Araab can on stage, which is to turn a piece of studio equipment into a device for improvisation. His light-speed button mashing has become his defining trait not only as a producer, but also a performer—a perhaps unique distinction in the press-play world of festival DJs.
“Growing up, I always liked to draw crowds by doing what I do and seeing people’s reactions,” he says. “It still hasn’t changed.”
By the way Araab tells it, it seems as though not much in general has changed in his life since success hit, even as he plays shows in far-off places like Australia and Japan. He still makes beats everyday, just as he did in high school, when he told everybody in town that he was going to be a star. He even still comes back home often to spend time with his mom, dad, older brother and younger sister. But can someone who’s become a “world-wide figure” (his words) still live the same life as he did before?
The question comes to mind when, once again, we awkwardly run into the subject of his recent shooting in Harlem. This time, it stems from when I ask him about whether he views his music as an escape at all—mentally or in the literal sense. The songs on Dream World, after all, conform to the album’s title; they’re anthems for the subconscious. Specific sounds used on it, like the floating vocals on “Take Me Higher” or the gentle keys of “Dream,” put the listener in a hazy loop of memories and future expectations. Even the record’s reworked artwork—colder and more dystopian than the soft pink glow of the spacey original—still sits in a bed of clouds, far above reality. Araab, of course, immediately knows where I’m going with this topic and becomes even tighter lipped. That is, until he’s had enough and tells me to stop examining the psychological side of things—to stop looking at the music beyond the music, in other words. His songs, he says, are not an escape; rather, they’re simply who he is. Making music is in his blood, he proclaims. And anything beyond that, at least in terms of the recent trauma he’s endured, is trivial.
“As long as you’re fine and doing what you do, it’s just one of them things that’s in the past now.”
Reed Jackson is a writer based in New York. Follow him on Twitter.