When Ann Arbor's Tadd Mullinix began exploring hip-hop under the name Dabrye 20 years ago, he soon honed in on a startling vision of what the genre could be: ingenious, refined, daring. This vision came to life across two albums for Ghostly International — 2001's One/Three and its 2006 follow-up Two/Three — with each record further positioning the quiet Michigan producer as one of his generation's best, equally comfortable creating minimalist instrumental meditations or sharp rap salvos. In the late 2000s, following critical acclaim and accolades from both peers and inspirations (including the late Jay Dee with whom Mullinix collaborated before his untimely passing), Mullinix put the Dabrye moniker on ice and dedicated himself to other genres and ideas. All the while the influence of his work on a new generation of electronic musicians continued to make itself felt in subtle but meaningful ways.
All this changes in 2017 as Dabrye makes his long-awaited return with Three/Three, a razor-sharp rap album that brings to completion a prophetic trilogy. Mullinix's incisive productions provide the backdrop for equally acute rhymes that run the gamut from intergenerational observations and being your best self to back alley deals and having fun in the ride. Guests include indie rap legend DOOM, whose previous collaboration with Dabrye remains a point of reference for many, Wu Tang storyteller Ghostface Killah, L.A word fanatic Jonwayne, and Long Island's rugged surrealist Roc Marciano. Most importantly Three/Three is, much like its predecessor, an unfettered celebration of Detroit-area talent with Guilty Simpson, Phat Kat, Kadence, Quelle Chris, Danny Brown, Shigeto, Clear Soul Forces and more all lending their touch to Dabrye's return.
The blend of American and British dance music, hip-hop sampling, and Jamaican sound clash energy that underpinned Two/Three remains a quiet, guiding principle. At the same time Mullinix rejoices in a refreshed perspective, having had time to incubate ideas and find clarity in the distance between albums and the evolution of scenes. The beats are looser and less angular, more embracing of repetition. Organic techniques inspired by soul and jazz round off some of the harsher sonics. The resulting broad palette of tracks reflects both this evolution and the range of the Dabrye persona: relaxed headnod ("Tunnel Vision"); nervous, slow-motion electro ("The Appetite"); glacial motifs ("Emancipated"); jazzy, cut-up funk ("Sunset"); minimal brutalism ("Electrocutor"); intricate layering ("Culture Shuffle").
Three/Three marks the return of an innovator after close to a decade of silence. Despite what the title might imply, the album isn't the end of the story but rather the completion of a creative arc. Expect more Dabrye in the near future. The game is far from over.