Hip-hop producer Malik Abdul-Rahmaan is a staunch believer in the power of music to transcend cultural barriers. He's trying to harness that power with Field Research, a series of albums that will see their first release in early 2017 via the Brooklyn-based Indi-label Paxico Records.
Field Research is the musical equivalent of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. Rahmaan travels to different countries where he immerses himself in the local culture, with a particular focus on the music and vinyl scene. He then creates music infused with elements of his experience. The first album is a result of his travels in Malaysia.
“Essentially, it’s me going to different countries digging around for records and connecting with people who are avid vinyl collectors or owners of vinyl shops,” Rahmaan says. “It also includes field recordings on the streets — just capturing sounds from different places I’m at. For me it’s a way to connect musically to these different cultures, because a big part of my background includes traveling.”
Rahmaan, who lives in Brooklyn now, was raised in a military family. He was born in Germany, where his father was in the Air Force at the time, and lived there the first few years of his life. His family then moved to the Dallas area. From kindergarten through most of high school, he lived in South Dallas, Oak Cliff and Lewisville.
After his senior year of high school, Rahmaan followed his father’s footsteps and joined the Air Force. His first military post was in Guam, and the influence of nearby Japan was what motivated him to pursue music as a career.
“When I was in Guam, I was dating a girl from Japan and she was really into hip-hop as well, which surprised me,” Rahmaan says. “She would bring me Japanese hip-hop to listen to when she would visit Guam, and I was like, 'I gotta get out there.'
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"On my first trip to Japan I learned quite a bit about how, outside of America, they have the deepest hip-hop culture of any country, and they’ve been doing it almost as long as we have. Not only do they respect hip-hop culture, they respect vinyl culture as well. In Japan, at that time, for every CD store there were 10 vinyl shops. I put in orders to get stationed in Japan, and I somehow got that. I lucked out."
Rahmaan developed a love for Tokyo. He frequented Club Harlem, which is considered the epicenter of hip-hop in that region, and became enamored with the skills of world-renowned DJ Muro. Rahmaan says living in Japan, combined with new work from producers J Dilla and Hi-Tek, created the perfect storm of inspiration.
He bought his first MPC 3000 and began building his self-described "meager" vinyl collection into a sampling arsenal of more than 3,000 records. Rahmaan says his vinyl cataloging process is very precise and organized, which is not surprising given his military background.
Since he already put in time becoming familiar with the local music community, finding artists to work with wasn’t difficult. “There’s a historic club in an area of Tokyo called Ikebukuro named Club Bed," Rahmaan says. "I befriended a guy I met there named Bes and did a couple of tracks for his debut album that ended up being the singles and it got a lot of burn.
"He wanted to turn around and do another album, Rebuild, and have me produce the lion's share of the music, which I did. Of course the checks were nice, but it affirmed that I can actually do this. It showed me I had the ability to come up with enough beats to hold down an album, and that was amazing to me.”
Rahmaan’s reverence for his time in Japan is apparent; he gives credit to its people and culture at every turn. During an 18-month stint in Los Angeles and a brief return home to Dallas, Rahmaan stepped back from producing for a while. He relocated to Brooklyn in 2011, and that's where his love of production was reignited.
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In Brooklyn he connected with Chris Hund, the owner of Paxico Records, who introduced him to creative circles where his music flourished. "I wasn’t really working on any music. I was somewhat stuck at the time," Rahmaan says. "In the beat-making scene here in New York their apartment in Bushwick was kind of famous. They were having a party called the Paxico POWWAW. I step into their place and there’s this huge open space with couches and all types of creative people just hanging out. And there was this cat playing his beats, just killing it. I was like, 'Ah shit, I’ve found exactly where I need to be.'"
Rejuvenated, Raahman would go on to produce for several New York-based artists. Eventually he landed in the studio with legendary MC Ghostface Killah, creating beats for his latest album, 36 Seasons. As a testament to the quality of the work, Ghostface used a handful of tracks, including the single “Love Don’t Live Here No More,” which he performed on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
Moving forward, Rahmaan plans to turn the Field Research concept into a brand of its own. He's also positioning himself to advance the careers of other artists, through A&R work with Paxico and J.T. Donaldson’s Dallas label, New Math Records.
"Field Research is actually going to be expanded into its own imprint for narrative-driven music,” Rahmaan says. "I think narrative-driven music is something that’s lacking. It’s out there, it just doesn’t have the platform. At this age I’m definitely more focused on what I want. This is my life — I’m not someone who’s content with having a regular 9-to-5 job. I’m going to continue with my travels and my Field Research experiences, but also give others an opportunity to put out similar projects from their perspective.”