Artist: Josh Martinez
Album: Made In China
Label: Low Pressure
Rating: 6.5 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
Hmmm… nice artwork. That’s the first thing that hits you. If you’re already familiar with Josh Martinez you’ll recognize that the colourful cover is par for the course for a man who’s famed for being a little eccentric when he gets on the mic. If this is your first experience of Mr Martinez however, then you’ll only really begin to realize what the deal is as you make your way through “Made In China.”
This is not really a new album, as it contains tracks from the previously released, though extremely hard-to-find Martinez joints ‘Scribble 100’ and ‘The Hali Hundred’. The rareness of these albums though, plus the fact that there are a few new tracks on here, and the convenience of the fact that everything is on a readily available multi-coloured psychedelic cd means that for many this will be there only chance to hear those older tracks.
Things kick off with ‘La Rambla’, a cut that’s built around an addictive Mexican guitar loop that lurches between pitches to give an authentic “seasickness” feel. On the mic, Martinez ain’t gonna be for everyone – his voice is a little… well… whiny. Also with all the evidence pointing to the fact that he likes to portray himself as one of the new school of “abstract-poet” emcees, it should come as no surprise to learn that he’s down with Anticon.
‘(Sic) Muse’ comes off as a jazzy outtake from the Beasties’ “Paul’s Boutique” sessions – producer Deskee has done a superb imitation of the Dust Brothers production styles from that era. Josh meanwhile… well, he’s just Josh. He flows on the beat, off the beat, around the beat… it really is an acquired taste – and one that, on this cut at least, I was feeling. Josh Martinez equals Hiphop’s Bob Dylan – FACT.
Next cut ‘Outlook’, and later ‘Weed Weed’, both focus more on Josh’s performance on the mic, by stripping the tracks down to little more than bare drumbeats. On the former cut, Josh walks a line between rapping and singing often drifting from one extreme to the other as he lilts his way over WSP’s raw drums. ‘Weed Weed’ is ANOTHER weed song (like you hadn’t guessed), and features Josh’s label partner DJ Moves on production, complimenting the hard edged snares with some mellow flute loops that combine to provide an ideally laidback smokers’ anthem.
‘The Cluuuuub’ is the first of the “new” tracks encountered, and again it has that “Paul’s Boutique” feel. The rubbery bassline is instantly comparable to the Beasties ‘AWOL’, as Josh and the impressive Tachichi spit some nonsense rhymes parodying jiggy rap. Following this up is another collaboration – ‘Big Mouths’ features Martinez trading verbals with Kunga 219 over a simple but effective production pattern of chimes, electric guitar basslines, and live drums.
The trippy ‘Magic Bullet’, the Company Flow-esque ‘Chickenshit’ and the introspective ‘Marxchism’ are up next, and feature three different looks at Josh Martinez. On ‘Magic Bullet’, he sounds at his most animated, attacking wack record labels over a set of understated jazz drums, and ships-coming-into-port noises. The self-produced ‘Chickenshit’ strays into “Funcrusher Plus” terrority, with booming drums and an eerie piano loop creating a dark backdrop that only matches Martinez’s “I’m about as normal as Norman Bates” mood. ‘Marxschism’ meanwhile displays the deep-thinker in Martinez as he examines the effects of Communism over a watery audio landscape.
Musically, ‘Chord Changes’ is probably the most interesting cut on the album – Dert Roads has managed to hook up a rich audio backdrop of rumbling bass and mournful horns, which seems to stimulate Martinez into a more animated state. He’s still talking twenty-to-the-dozen, but the whole thing just sounds so dramatic.
Elsewhere, UK heads will recognise the opening chords of the trippy ‘I’ve Got Devils’ as the theme tune to Formula 1 Motor Racing. Even the familiar tune can’t stop this from being a bit of a plodder though – Nool’s drum beat really does struggle along, and actually pulls Martinez’s flow down with it. Things don’t really improve with the equally sluggish ‘Letter To July’. This one is produced by Jesse Dangerously, but even the switch in producers can’t pull this out of the boredom bin. Follow-up cut ‘Breakdown’ however, does succeed in lifting interest levels. This time Dangerously hooks up a classical piano set over a quicker set of kicks, and as Josh croons over the resulting beat about relationship trials and tribulations, one of the brighter spots on the album shines through.
Rounding things off is the emotional epic ‘Deny’. This is more spoken word than actual emceeing, but this approach actually does the subject matter more justice. As the DJ Moves beat switches and changes to back up the mood changes in the lyrics, Martinez speaks from the heart about the Holocaust. The amount of detail he pours into the words really must be heard to be believed – when people speak about music having the power to change situations, and spark intelligent debate, they could easily be speaking about this track. Its raw emotion and uncompromising descriptions DO make the listener feel uncomfortable, but that’s what its MEANT to do… this is real.
This is another album that won’t be suitable for everyone. I hate to pigeonhole things but when people (usually backpackers) talk about “intelligent, progessive” Hiphop, they could easily be talking about Josh Martinez. Therefore, its the backpackers among us who’ll probably appreciate this more. However, I think its important that even for those who already know that they don’t like music of this ilk… go and check out ‘Deny’. Copy it from a friend, download it, steal it… do whatever you can to hear this cut – it really is that important. Its not often that one track on an album makes such a difference to a final score, but in this case its fully justified.