This is not what you were expecting. Dust, that is. It's the first solo album from Muggs, legendary in the hip-hop world as the beatmaker/producer for L.A.'s groundbreaking hip-hop trio Cypress Hill, whose noir-ish soundscapes paved the way for everything from Wu-Tang's RZA to the UK based "trip hop" movement, and if you were expecting a traditional hip hop album, then you're underestimating Muggs and surley mistaken.
Many of the elements that define Muggs are there; the sinister samples, the dusty grooves, the stoned ambience, but there are no MC's on this album. In their place there's haunting singers and psychedelic guitars. The result is a beautiful and brave cinematic ride that's closer to "Comfortably Numb" than it is to "I Wanna Get High."
"It's a conceptual rock album," says Muggs of the project, set to be released in the spring of 2003. "[There's] electronic, ambient, hip-hop, some dub elements all mixed in there. But I'd put it in the rock category. I'm a big Pink Floyd fan, and this is Pink Floyd-influenced, definitely."
"The trick was to make it sound like an album," says Muggs, "not just a compilation record." To that end, the DJ carefully avoided the jumbled pileup that so often results from having a different guest vocalist in the booth on every song. Aside from one-off appearances by old friend Everlast and new friend Greg Dulli, Muggs anchors Dust around just two voices: that of the haunting Amy Trujillo, and that of a heartfelt Josh Todd.
The result is an album that works as an artistic whole, rather than simply a catch-all collection of disparate songs. "You can sit and listen to the album," says Muggs, born Lawrence Muggerud, "and it sounds like an album. It works, it flows. I don't think enough people make albums anymore."
As for the noirish mood on Dust, Muggs explains it this way: "I like my music smoked-out. Dusted. Slow. Dark. Like a small, dingy club with mad cigarette smoke. Whisky. You know what I mean? That's what I was going for on this record. That's what I tried to bring across in the music. It's just dark, ominous, downtempo. Real, real deep. It's the shit you come home to at three in the morning after the club and smoke some spliffs to."
Muggs came of age in Queens, NY at the height of hip hop's golden era, starting as a breakdancer in '82 and soon after getting turned on to DJing and turntablism while listening to Marley Marl's "Mr. Magic" radio show. He moved to LA in '84 and soon found himself DJing for his friends B Real and Sen Dog in various crews that were to eventually become Cypress Hill. When he started digging for samples for Cypress' beats, he found himself gravitating more towards old blues and psychedelic rock records rather than the funk breaks that his peers were using. This helped create the foundation of his unique sound. While Cypress Hill went on to become one of hip hop's biggest crossover success stories with over 13 million albums sold worldwide, Muggs' side projects including his 2 hip-hop all star compilation Soul Assassins albums along with remix and production work for artists ranging from Ice Cube to House Of Pain to Depeche Mode further elevated his status as one of hip hop's most prolific and unique talents.
"Dust" brings his talent full circle. It applies his techniques and aesthetics, born in hip hop, to music closer related to the style of the psychedelic records he sampled and the English electronic artists that he and other hip hop pioneers influenced.
If that confounds listeners who might want to confine DJ Muggs to hard-edged hip-hop for the rest of his musical life? Well, Muggs isn't too concerned. "A lot of people want to pigeonhole you," he says. "They know you from hip-hop, so they just want to keep you there. But I never wanted to be put in a box. I like experimenting, testing my boundaries. Seeing if I can take what's in my head and translate it into music. There's a lot of things I want to do as a musician, and I think I'm just getting to the tip right now.
"[Dust] is just where I'm at in my head, where I'm at as an artist. I'm evolving and I'm growing and I want to challenge myself."