Text: Alec Coiro
Photo: Serge Rigaud
If you remember carion squawk that kicked off “Nighttime Vultures,” emblematic of the dark turn Mobb Deep took with Hell On Earth, you’ll already have an inkling of the sort of cinematic, brooding hip-hop excellence that Al-Tarba is laying claim to. If you’re not familiar with it, that’s not a problem, because Al’Tarba builds his own world from the ground out hip hop instrumentals.
Known for both his instrumental work as well as producing for M.C.s on both sides of the Atlantic, Al’Tarba is the master of atmosphere. The current album, which translates roughly to The Night Rises, sees the producer once again conjuring his own unique milieu. The breadth of his ambition is clear when you see that he counts old horror movies to be just as influential on the sound of the record.
Adding to the melange of sound is DJ Nix’on, who scratches in a sounds from a hodge-podge of sources, which somehow only add to the unity of the album’s mood. And then of course, Al’Tarba brings in the MCs, the final piece in bringing spirit of “la nuit” to life. On the title track it’s the French rapper Virus, but Even if nuit is the only french word you can make out, the meaning gets across nevertheless.
We reached out transatlantically and got in touch with Al’Tarba himself.
“La Nuit Se Lève” certainly conjures up a specific atmosphere. How would you describe the mood that you were going for with the record?
It’s a dark / cinematographic atmosphere. I was influenced by 80’s slashers, movies like maniac , maniac cop, and other things like the warriors. You can find some 80’s synth, some 70’s psychedelic samples , and dusty drums!
I tried to tell a story track by track that’s my advice to the listeners would be to listen the album from track 1 to 15 if he has a chance to , the album is build like a movie so the order is very important on this one!
From what I’ve read, your influences and the rappers you sample are mostly American, specifically from the East Coast. Does the reflect your main interests? Are you active on the French rap scene? Can you tell us a little about it and how it might contrast to what’s going on in the U.S.?
For my first two albums, back in 2007 and 2000, I used to do a lot of features with rappers, especially from the east coast (Ill Bill, Brooklyn academy, Jise One, Sonsee were on the first one). At the same time I was working a lot with French rappers too. To me except from the language it was the same , making connections sending beats talking about topics of the tracks, mixing sequencing, so I would not make a big difference between working with Americans, English or French rappers. Maybe the main difference is that I had more chance to meet the French ones in person since we’re in the same country!
Unlike a lot of hip hop instrumental albums I’ve listened to lately, you don’t neglect to include a liberal amount of turntable wizardry. How do you see scratching fitting into the hip hop landscape in 2017 and beyond?
Well the album is featuring my bro Dj Nix’on on the track starship loopers. We’ve been touring together for a long time now, so it was just normal for me to include him on the album, so I made a beat who would change several times of styles so he could scratch different type of things on it, from Cypress hill voices to free jazz saxophone and arabian guitars!
Some of the instrumental parts on your tracks seem like they were played live for the track, (the guitar work in particular). How much of what we hear is samples and how much live instrument work?
Yeah thats right i play of lot of guitar and bass lines on my tracks , some synth too, I tried to mix samples work and played instruments in every track !
What are the challenges in creating a purely instrumental record in a genre where the instrumentals are typically accompanied by an MC?
Well when it comes to abstract hip hop i can really tell a story with the track, create more strange atmosphere and put more things in it since you don’t have to include the voice, that’s why I like to do both, pure hip hop tracks with emcees and abstract track. On this album, you can have both flavors because it’s important to me to take it back sometimes to pure hip hop with the energy and the bars of a dope mc!