Old news: the world is flat. It's a long way from Turkey to Oxnard, CA, but a crate full of Balkan source material isn't so hard to come by anymore. Apparently it was especially easy for Oh No, who got a handful of Turkish, Lebanese, Greek and Italian music from Stones Throw impresario Egon and promised to "make some beats out of it." The result, Dr. No's Oxperiment, is agreeable, but never more: 28 bite-sized jams, par for the course, a little more trebly than usual. Earth-shaking, or earth-shrinking, would have required a lot more effort.
The default charm of Stones Throw releases is that they make laziness sound like a virtue. No matter how much work is actually involved – and often it's quite a lot, viz. J Dilla's Donuts – the music goes best when its premise is simple and unconcerned with lofty concepts. Oh No got this, even on his lopsided debut The Disrupt; he's a wayward rapper and a casual producer, but that works better for him than rigor would. He started courting the thesis album last year with Exodus Into Unheard Rhythms, a boisterous, guest-laden affair whose sample bank was restricted to the output of HAIR composer Galt MacDermot; still, diligence is hardly the first descriptor that comes to mind. The voluntary constraint isn't the point, just an interesting footnote. If anything, we were meant to be impressed by how effortlessly it came together ("27 beats in just three days!" No boasts in the intro).
So what's grating about the Oxperiment, an otherwise satisfying assemblage of stilted songlets, is that it purports to be something it's not: an experiment. The rules were unexacting and vague; the results are not remotely surprising. The beats are clamorous, just too laconic to be danceable, and cling to the marrow of each sample with standard Oxnard imprecision. The samples, for their part, offer only a cursory sense of "foreign," from a saz or a duduk or whatever theme plays when Bond washes up on the Turquoise Coast. There are sweet spots, to be sure, but when Oh No catches a groove, as on "Breakout" or "Ohhhhhh," it has nothing to do with exoticism. One of the best tracks, the one-minute "Come Back," sounds like it samples the Doobie Brothers covering Hootie & the Blowfish (in, um, a good way).
So it's a wash from an academic standpoint. Big deal, though – this isn't artist's-statement anthropology, it's hip hop. The disappointment is that even as an exercise in style Dr. No's Oxperiment is imaginative in such a conventional way. It's already evident that kinda-diverse musical cues can be assimilated into a permissively hazy rhythmic idiom; Dilla and Madlib and DJ Shadow and Timbaland have proved that before, more provocatively than Oh No does here. This is a rewarding listen much of the time, but "some beats" would have been a fine title. Once you start overselling the process, the product can't be far behind.