Feeling the Hand on the Pad in Instrumental Hip-hop

Two tracks from the forthcoming album Subtle Busyness from Philadelphia-based Arcka

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Arcka, aka Shawn Kelly, the artist also known as Arkatron, and formerly as Y?Arcka, has a release, Subtle Busyness, due out shortly on the Twin Springs Tapes label. Two tracks have been posted to the label’s SoundCloud account in advance. Both are instrumental hip-hop, which is where Arcka lives, but they go in distinctly different directions.

“Lunar”is a blissfully steady two-minute beat with dreamy undertones. Nudges in the bass and swirly synthesized, zithery accents entertain psychedelic associations. Put it on repeat.

“Aerofloat”is more characteristic of Arcka, which is to say it’s more difficult to pigeonhole and a rewarding listen for that very reason. Early on the beat slows to a syrupy pause, like a hip-hop train losing steam as it comes into the station, and for an extended period you listen inside the audio, to warped elements and a richly irregular rhythm. Of course, then it nearly flies out of control — though not fully, because Arcka is at the wheel.

Hip-hop production has a reputation for being studio music, and that’s certainly the case with Arcka, who does much of his work on an MPC, the classic rap-music workhorse. However, it’s useful to remember what a tactile machine the MPC is, how beloved its pads are to producers. In “Aerofloat”there are, throughout, these pixie-stick triggers that are just enough off the beat that you can sense the hand of producer. The music of Arcka may be recorded and constructed, cut-up and arranged, but the life blood is self-evident throughout.

Here’s a shot from a few years ago of Arcka cleaning the insides of his well-used MPC:

A photo posted by ARCKATRON (@arckatron) on

The two-track set was first posted at soundcloud.com/twin-springs-tapes. More from Arcka at arckatron.us. More from the Twin Springs label at twinspringstapes.bandcamp.com and facebook.com/twinspringstapes. The album is due out, in a limited edition of 100 tapes, shortly. And here’s an interview I did with Arcka/Kelly, who is based in Philadelhia, back in 2009: “Young Communicator.”

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