Tadd Mullinix is a master of variation - these days he’s most commonly found juggling upfront house and techno as JTC, raucous new beat and industrial as Charles Manier and more experimental fare under his own name. Back in 2001 it was a different story - he was locked into the demonic jungle of Soundmurderer & SK1 with Todd Osborn, was starting to explore guttural acid abstractions as James T. Cotton, and he was full flow with Dabrye.
As a long-standing project Dabrye has spanned some interesting eras - when the trilogy of albums began with One/Three, there was a buoyant scene of leftfield beatsmiths twisting up the hip hop blueprint. Prefuse 73 was a something of a figurehead, but special mention also goes out to Shadow Huntaz, Push Button Objects, El-P and the Def Jux crew. By the 2006 release of Two/Three the LA-centric beat scene was gaining momentum behind Flying Lotus’ debut album and the foundations laid out by Ammoncontact, Daddy Kev and others. Within a few years that whole subculture had become a world-conquering phenomenon in its own right (thanks to the inherent charisma in Lotus’ music and the promotional heft of Warp Records), but by this point Dabrye was nowhere to be seen.
Mullinix was plenty busy in other realms of sonic deviancy, but Dabrye, the hip hop/beats project of an artist from Ann Arbor, Michigan, was a regular name-check for a raft of up and coming producers from California. His unusual trajectory compared to many hip hop lifers is certainly a source of his unique style and appeal, but he’s also rooted in his location. Less sunkissed than the West Coast and less self-consciously gritty than the East, Dabrye always sported the toughness of Detroit (further validated when he connected with the likes of Jay Dee and Guilty Simpson) but ruffled it up with his weirdo electronic sonics.
Despite the variables that could arise from a 12-year hiatus, Three/Three lands as the perfect summation of the trilogy. Mullinix is on fire here, and he’s brought all the right people with him. MF Doom is pure class on 'Lil Mufukuz', Guilty Simpson holds down a mellow flow over restrained but deadly opener 'Tunnel Vision', and Ghostface Killah snarls on the top of a nagging, hyped up loop. Bringing things full circle, true son of the LA beat scene Jonwayne holds court over 'Pretty' and Mullinix rolls out some classic piano licks underneath. It’s a positively straight up beat, striking a balance with the freakier moments to make Three/Three work so well as an album.
There are spots from lesser-known Detroit MCs that stand up to the big names. Nolan The Ninja spars with a melancholic beat perfectly on 'Nova'. Phat Kat returns after last spitting over a Dabrye beat back in 2004, and he sits comfortably in the mix with some of the weirdest synth work on the album on the startling 'Bubble Up'. It’s only superseded by 'Culture Shuffle', a truly messed up, bugged out funk of malfunctioning synth blurts under dextrous raps from Kadence Intricate Dialect and Silas Green.
In some ways it feels like Dabrye never left, and there isn’t a great sense of time passing on the record. Some might see that as a shortcoming, but occasionally it’s comforting to know that there are constants in this changeable existence, not least when the constant is operating at this level.