In a brilliant strategy that’s enabled him to satisfy two different kinds of fans, Bay Area scratch legend DJ Qbert dropped two crowdfunded albums simultaneously on iTunes on July 1: the all-instrumental album Extraterrestria and GalaXXXian, a collection of radio- or club-friendly yet still unmistakably underground-sounding joints with guest features by the likes of Kool Keith, El-P, Roscoe Umali and former American Idol contestant Camile Velasco. GalaXXXian is designed for casual fans who enjoy watching Qbert’s turntable prowess on stage or in videos but either aren’t accustomed to instrumental hip-hop in album form or aren’t even aware that instrumental hip-hop is a thing. Meanwhile, the more experimental Extraterrestria is for the more hardcore fans (in other words, heads who are accustomed to instrumental hip-hop in album form). As Qbert himself cleverly put it, GalaXXXian is from Earth, and Extraterrestria is from space.
The album from Earth isn’t a terrible one, but it’s clearly the lesser of the two. Qbert sometimes sounds like a guest star on his own album — there are a couple of long (and scratch-less) stretches where I thought, “What happened to the chirps? What happened to the Uzis? What happened to the crab scratches?” — and only a few GalaXXXian tracks have had immense replay value for me so far: among them are “Crosshairs,” a typically strong political track from Bambu (it’s actually a carryover from Bam’s 2013 mixtape Sun of a Gun), and “Liquifly,” which features another Bay Area luminary, the always-welcome Del the Funky Homosapien.
Meanwhile, all of Extraterrestria has immense replay value, and the all-instrumental album better showcases why Qbert is so revered in scratch culture (instead of MCs, the guests on Extraterrestria are the non-verbal likes of cellist Dana Leong and Chad Hugo, taking one of his occasional vacations from hiding inside Pharrell’s hat). In standout instrumentals like the twangy spy-fi groove “Spectre (Soundtrack from a Race on Your Moon),” the 10-minute “Broken Butterflies (Birthing Sounds of Various Orion Hybrids)” and “Jiu-Jitsu (Gaian Music from Your Planet),” Qbert demonstrates the artistry that goes into scratching and renders inane those out-of-touch, Quincy punk episode-ish haters who think that scratching doesn’t qualify as music.
“Jiu-Jitsu,” in which Qbert and DJ IQ spazz out to a beat that’s so fast it makes Dennis Coffey’s Black Belt Jones theme sound like a quiet-storm tune, is easily the best track on Extraterrestria. It’s exactly why I’ve bought instrumental scratch albums in the past. The crazier the scratches get and the weirder the Qbert album concept sounds on paper, the more enjoyable the album. Wave Twisters, Qbert’s 1998 album (which he later made into a 2001 animated feature film), was about heroic dentists on an intergalactic mission to protect the four elements of hip-hop. As for Extraterrestria, the backstory is that it’s a compilation curated by “the Galactic Skratch Federation,” which collected sounds from different civilizations. For instance, the opening track “Moth-Rah (Chants from the Island Moth People)” represents a planet of Mothras and, of course, their miniature fairy worshipers, while “Jiu-Jitsu” represents Gaia, a.k.a. Earth, hence the “Gaian” in the full track title. There’s a sense of exploration and galaxy-hopping adventure to Extraterrestria that was missing from most of the last Star Trek feature film. Fuck Roberto Orci, his derivative, 9/11 truther tenet-laden screenplay, his whitewashing of Khan, his pro-Dubya comments and his child molester haircut. Qbert has made a far superior Star Trek flick, and it’s called Extraterrestria.