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Posted on May 31st, 2013 (7:00 am) by Ryan Kaplan

Where does beatmaking fit in the ever-expanding catalogue of music genres? Beatmakers mix hip-hop and electronica with a myriad of other sounds, and they are trying to turn their craft into an independent, praiseworthy style - a difficult task, as the genre has been historically seen as basic fodder for rappers and singers. Is it even a genre that deserves its own separate label? French beatmaker Evil Needle is one of many up-and-coming musicians attempting to validate the existence of vocally-bare beats.

Evil Needle grew up on ‘90s hip-hop like Wu-Tang Clan, Pharcyde, and Hieroglyphics. After a failed attempt at becoming a DJ in the early 2000’s, Evil Needle found his niche in making laid-back, enjoyable beats that blend hip-hop with a multitude of other genres. He has seven releases, all made up of luscious, atmospheric instrumentals. On his latest album, Qualia, Evil Needle continues to lay down soulful, head-bobbing tracks, and though they are pleasant to listen to, they don’t offer up enough substance to make this album something worth listening to multiple times.

The hip-hop influences become abundantly clear after the first few seconds of this record. Chest-thumping, resonant bass and thunderous snare-claps ring out while ethereal synths lay down the relaxed foundation of the rest of the record. The easy-going vibe is mixed with futuristic, spacey sounds, and it’s reminiscent of beats used by Chance the Rapper and Kid Cudi. Evil Needle begins to play with genres when he mixes in R&B on the track “Lucky Lady” - jazzy, electric piano chords beg for Frank Ocean to croon over them. “Vibin’” pays homage to the choppy, swinging, New York hip-hop beats he loved growing up, and it sounds eerily similar to some of the beats by “Beast Coast” rappers Pro Era. “Good Times” mixes a heavy-handed, James Brown funk beat with melodic guitars and a lazy horn melody. It bridges the gap between funk, hip-hop, and jazz and makes for one of the more interesting tracks on the album.

The inherent problem with making instrumental music is that it needs to compensate in some way for the absence of vocals, whether rapped or sung, and in the cold, computerized beatmaking genre, obtaining that human element is even more difficult to do. Evil Needle’s beats are impressive, but they’d work even better if a rapper was flowing over them. It’s easy to appreciate how decisively layered and expertly planned his music is, but there’s nothing to grasp on to, no catchy melodies, no memorable hooks, just ethereal tones, blips and bloops of synths, and the driving, monotonous backbeat present on every track. There are rarely any interesting beat switch-ups mid-song or fresh additions to keep the tracks lively; they just plod along carrying the same tune for four minutes at a time. It also doesn’t help that the tempo rarely shifts at all from song to song - many tracks, especially on the front end of the record, bleed together into one big, long beat.

I really did enjoy “Comfort Zone,” which actually has some interesting melodic components, like a strong bass line, lovely piano work, and outer space synths. I also really loved the spastic, staccato synth melody on “Hakunetsu,” which makes for one of the most fun listening experiences of the album. But overall, this record didn’t do much for me. Evil Needle has some great ideas and his beats are better than a lot of other producers’ out there right now, but they just aren’t interesting enough on their own to warrant an entire independent release. The great thing about the beatmaking genre is that it’s highly flexible and absorbent; it will continue to suck in new influences and morph into different shapes until it reaches its highest potential. Qualia is not the best beatmaking record, but it’s a fascinating glance at an artist struggling to define both himself and his entire genre in one concise, 35-minute record. That is perhaps its most endearing and important quality.

Track List:
1. Ascension
2. Floatin' with Louise
3. Moodolude 05
4. Qualia
5. Hakunetsu
6. My World
7. Intrepidity feat. Mr. Carmack
8. Galaxy Wars
9. Lucky Lady
10. Vibin' feat. Freddie Joachim
11. Assembly
12. Good Times feat. Octavio N. Santos
13. Comfort Zone

Evil Needle, Qualia, Review, Ryan Kaplan, beats, beatmaker, beatmaking, hip-hop
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

55 / 100
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