Review: Exile Re-Imagines the Concept of Radio

Howard University News Service

Being a successful hip-hop producer is something that Exile takes seriously. With the pressure to release material that is more awe-inspiring than his previous work, it is clear that his approach to his newest musical installment, “Radio,” reflects his appreciation for consistency and thoughtful concepts. This experimental and instrumental album incorporates sounds one would hear on everyday radio, from the actual music including commercials, to the static and random banter found between radio stations.

The hip-hop DJ and producer has been making a name for himself since earlier projects such as “Below the Heavens” and “Dirty Science LP.” The critical acclaim for his production has led to work with various rap artists including Mobb Deep, Ghostface Killah, Kardinal Offishall and Jurassic 5.

As a California native, Exile has worked with many of the state’s emerging hip-hop artists such as Blu and Aloe Blacc. His style of production is comparable to those of contemporary producers such as Madlib and the late J Dilla. Both have a reputation for making laidback, soulful music with a jazz influence. Exile’s beats are reminiscent of the early ’90s conscious hip-hop movement that brought about groups like A Tribe Called Quest, Arrested Development and Gang Starr.

Exile crafts his beats using the popular MPC (Musical Production Center) as an electronic music instrument. He samples messages from PSAs, radio drops and other sound bytes to weave intricate beats that speak to listeners, providing them with an informative, yet relevant message. One track in particular, “In Love,” stands out as different voices are used to describe their take on the L word.

The producer experiments throughout the album with a variety of signature sounds like “boom bap,” which uses a hard bass drum, and the “snapping snare,” which dates back to the roots of hip-hop music. Electronica-influenced melodies are effectively incorporated into some tracks that add to the instrumental album’s appeal.

While some radio sounds work, others have a choppy and, at times, confusing stem of noise. The lack of vocals on the album will also leave some listeners wanting more out of some tracks that clearly are suited for the likes of an alternative hip-hop artist such as Mos Def or Talib Kweli.

The album title may be somewhat misleading to those who expect to hear the producer’s idea of radio in its current form. Instead, “Radio” is successful in paying tribute to the earlier days of radio, which were filled with catchy product jingles and Walter Cronkite-esque news broadcasts. This concept album defines Exile’s personal take on the power of radio and how it has influenced his music background.