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DJ Vadim - USSR: The Art of Listening

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Artist: DJ Vadim

Album: USSR: The Art of Listening

Label: Ninja Tune

Review date: Oct. 30, 2002

Background Listening

There's some pretty good graffiti on the cover and in the liner notes of DJ Vadim's The Art of Listening. I spent a lot of time looking at it and occasionally forgot that the disk was playing. It's not that the album is bad in anyway – it’s not, but nothing about it grabs your attention. What's supposed to be hilarious comes off as played out. A sample at the beginning of that Serious Sounding TV Announcer Guy talking about smoking weed? Well, yo, I'm this shit's target audience and I don't find that sort of humor very funny anymore, Mr. Vadim.

The problem is it's not an album, it's some of Vadim's friends who rap, while he makes the beats. It sounds like a combination between another Ninja Tune compilation and your buddy's mixtape, with much better production value. With producers like El-P, Anticon and the Chocolate Industries beat dorks spinning out of control while centripetally tossing out amazing chunks of sound, Vadim's beats are beginning to sound run-of-the-mill. Vadim's compositions are competently made and aren't especially dull, but over the course of the 16 tracks, the melodies blend into each other. Snare, kick, snare, kick, kick. Repeat. Throw some bongos on top of that. Maybe a blues lick? Sure. Some distortion filters and a samisen? Boom, you've got a beat. If The Art of Listening has anything, it's grooviness. You can groove to this. It has a nice, kick-back groove. But it doesn't go anywhere.

DJ Vadim, as you may know, is self-consciously Russian and The Art of Listening constantly reminds the listener of the Euroness of it all. England's Phi Life Cipher fast rap about the problems of free health care and unarmed police on "Ghetto Rebels," while Francophone hip hoppers TTC rap about something no doubt very interesting on "L'art d'Ecouter." Could-be Euro Yarah Bravo grabs the award for most unique performance on "She Who is Tested." Thankfully, she makes a second appearance a few tracks later on "The Pacifist," easily the best wordplay on the entire album, outshining even Gift of Gab, who is his usual breath-controlling self on "Combustible." For those not used to the routine, Gab informs sucker MCs that he is more talented than them. Even Slug of Atmosphere fame dials it in on the finale "Edie Brikell."

And that's the end of the album. Unless you watch the embedded QuickTime video on the disc, which is animated and cool and causes your computer to crash.

So where does that leave you? Puttering around your place with it playing in the background maybe once or twice more before you trade it in for store credit, while you wash the dishes and think about stuff like playing off bills.

By Noah Zimmerman

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