Electronic producer Tadd Mullinix has had an interesting career path throughout the 2000s. His debut release Winking Makes A Face served as the first major release for Ghostly International, a label which would eventually grow into an institution for modern-day electronic music fans. He became most known for his releases under the alias Dabrye, especially the first two releases of the “3” series, the second of which dropped back in 2006. While he’s produced a handful of works under different aliases in the interim, the Dabrye project has laid dormant for over 10 years. However, after all that wait, he has finally returned to cap off the series that started back in 2001 with his much-awaited comeback, Three/Three.
The album picks up pretty much exactly where Two/Three left off, with a similar length of nearly 20 tracks spanning almost an hour. The opening track, “Tunnel Vision,” features previous collaborator Guilty Simpson rapping over a beat that mixes boom-bap drums with warbled synths, the standard for Dabrye beats. Simpson lays down some pretty solid bars throughout, with “You should roll your pants up, pick up faster than a Dodge Ram truck” being my personal favorite. This sets a pretty good expectation for the rest of the record, as the album is heavy with rap collaborators much like Two/Three was.
The beat-work remains pretty consistent throughout, as ‘90s hip-hop drums contrast uniquely against synth-laden soundscapes with some distinct touches from song-to-song. “Tape Flip Too,” one of the solo instrumental tracks on the record, uses samples of retro-styled orchestral strings almost akin to a ‘50s TV show, creating a soothing retro-futurist vibe that you can zone out to with ease. “Electrocutor,” meanwhile, gives off a more uncomfortable vibe with its rumbling bass tones and occasional bursts of metallic noise akin to banging a pipe. My favorite of the instrumentals is “Sunset,” a collaboration with label-mate Shigeto that contains a surprisingly strong drum track with a tight groove and dynamic emphasis on the kick drum. The groove plays out like it was taken from someone playing an electronic kit, lending to its fantastic dynamic vibe.
But much like with Two/Three, the collaborations are the star here, and with good reason. The many rapper guest spots on Three/Three help demonstrate Dabrye’s greatest strength as a producer/songwriter, namely his ability to work well off of whoever is placed in front of him. Dabrye’s production compliments the abilities/flow of each guest on the record, such as on “Lil Mufukuz,” which sees him team back up with MF Doom once again. The beat has this unnerving muffled melody akin to a distorted crinkling baby’s toy, which plays well against Doom’s flow and lyrics, as he boasts about his superiority over other rappers with language similar to children being disciplined (“Cut off allowances and take away the toys. You think that’s harsh? It’s even worse for the boys” // Now get to them chores or you can’t hit the blunt for a month. You’re grounded, no outside, no front”). “Pretty” breaks away from the more futuristic vibe of the rest of the album with a more melancholic vibe akin to J Dilla or Nujabes, which perfectly complements the verses courtesy of Jonwayne and his generally deep-voiced moody flow. The album’s lead-off single “The Appetite” is floaty, dark, and intense, which complements the more low-key aggressive bars from Roc Marciano and Quelle Chris, and it also provides yet another off-kilter beat for the madman Danny Brown to flex his skills: a man who can truly rap over anything.
While the album demonstrates many strengths across its run from good collaborators and unique beats, the album does suffer from some pacing/structural issues. As previously mentioned, the record is almost an hour long with 19 tracks total, and it does get to be a bit of an exhausting listen towards the back half. While Dabrye works well with all of his collaborators, some tracks don’t really have much to offer and flow in one ear and out the other, such as “Fightscene” with La Peace, “Nova” with Nolan the Ninja, and “First Law of Nature Rock Day” with Denmark Vessey. This makes the ending of the record feel that much more underwhelming, as “Than Ice Rhythm” is a shockingly short and simple instrumental to close out a trilogy that’s been 17 years in the making. It’s somewhat surprising because while the second half of the record feels like it goes through the motions a bit, it also has what is arguably the strongest track on the album, “Culture Shuffle.” The beat is distinct and attention-grabbing with how glitched-out it is, and this is combined with Kadence Intricate Dialect providing what is easily the best and most stand-out verse on the record: (“Operating from a biophillic framework means developing a higher tolerance for pain first. Peep the solar soldier’s clenched black fist, afro cosmonaut, no escape velocity back trip, fulfills the need that our people heed and get on the ship fleeing from a white supremacy-flooded apocalypse. We’ll leave a crooked literary cracker’s back broke, dreaming science fictional futures with no black folks…”). It is a masterful display of flow and lyricism that would have made an incredibly explosive closer to the record.
Structural issues aside, Dabrye’s conclusion to his long-running trilogy is strong enough to be worth a few listens. His ear for beats is as strong as ever, and quite a few of the collaborators on this record manage to bring unique-enough songwriting and flows to help bring his music to life. While the final album of this series could have used a bit more flair in the proceedings, Three/Three provides a satisfying sense of closure after 12 years of waiting.
Final Verdict: Stream it. The strong production work and some choice guest features provide enough interesting points to overcome a somewhat filler-laden track list.
Three/Three is available from Ghostly International on CD, vinyl, digital download, and streaming services. Check out Dabrye on Facebook and Twitter.
[Note: A copy of the album was provided by Ghostly International for the purpose of this review.]