What would you expect from a mixtape produced by DJ Babu, a man rumored to have invented the term turntablism, a member of the Beat Junkies, which is arguably the best DJ crew in the business, and a longtime leader in the underground hip-hop scene? If you’re anything like me, you may expect a roster of underground up-and-comers. Strike one. Or an album of rare if not exclusive tracks. Strike two. Well, that’s all secondary to the showcasing of deejay skills anyway. Certainly Babu’s acrobatics on the ones and twos would make up for any lack of novelty in song selection. Strike three.
Though I refuse to count Babu out, he chalks up something of a disappointment with Duck Season, his latest foray into the mixtape arena. Although some have implied that the turntablist scene may have left the once-innovative Babu behind the plexi-glass of a 1990s hip-hop museum exhibit, the man still has skills, even if he appears to be reluctant to showcase them on this album.
Duck Season starts off promisingly with a De La Soul cut. But once I realized that “Watch Out” could only be considered a rarity in the sense that such a large chunk of the Plugs’ fan base couldn’t muster up interest enough to buy the album on which the song first appeared, I was left to concentrate on the lyrics. I quickly noticed that De La, a group once admirable for their refusal to drop to hip-hop’s customary ball-grabbing braggadocio, now seems to spend more time telling us about how dope they are instead of giving us the tunes to prove it.
But that’s the course this album takes. A long list of reputable acts we’ve heard before, doing songs we’ve heard elsewhere, with minimal attention paid to the deejay skills most buyers will probably expect. This collection, exhibiting the requisite gat-clapping, forty-swilling, herb-smoking, skill-boasting and shit-talking about fucking my girlfriend that the record-buying public just can’t get enough of these days, will most likely, in the words of featured artists Jurassic 5, “leave you gasping for art.” The tracks may get your head nodding; just don’t listen too closely. And with very little intervention by Babu, track selection is about all the listener has to focus on.
Duck Season does, thankfully, give us a few bright moments, with MOP’s heavy-hitting “Follow Instructions,” the immaculate Big Daddy Kane track (one of the few that Babu chooses to dice up), “The Man/The Icon,” and the album’s crowning achievement and final track, Jurassic 5’s “Ducky Boy.”
Offering some satisfaction for the dance-floor crowd, but probably not enough for the intent listener, the best that can be said is that the album is not wack. Competent mixing, decent song selection and a few moments of impressive scratching and back spinning. It simply begs the question: is this truly the best that we can expect from one of hip-hop’s premier turntablists?