Dropping in from the swirling gray miasma Beijing calls “sky” is a ghostly new production from Kai Luen, a Los Angeles transplant who’s been steeping in the nascent Chinese beat scene for the better part of a decade. Better known under his production alias Soulspeak, Kai’s classic admix of funk, soul, and bass-heavy West Coast slow-burn has matched well with the turntablism of three-time China DMC champ DJ Wordy and, more recently, silver-tongued hip-hop princeling Xiao Laohu.
Kai Luen’s solo output is sparse. The Hollow Ghost, out April 29 via superior Shanghai tastemaker SVBKVLT, is the first work he’s put his given name on, and it’s his most Beijing work to date. Breaking out of his sonic comfort zone — which geographically sits in the airspace above Compton, but only when P-Funk’s Mothership cruises through — he forces in edgewise hard, field-recorded street noise and cherrypicked elements from the global bass music zeitgeist, flirting with footwork and grime without ever exactly landing on either.
“Slime and Swallow” is the closest Kai Luen comes on The Hollow Ghost to his standard sound: jagged synth stabs up front, gauzy atmospheric pads in the ether, and thick Angeleno low-end melting comfortably together behind an in-the-pocket boom-bap. It’s a little too chill, really, until that disembodied gun cock drops in. That gun just keeps cocking in liminal space, wielded by a daemonic Pitched Down Vocal Sample that’s been unevenly imported from some trap hell, his voice here shredded beyond comprehension. Ultimately, there’s no one to shoot. Kai Luen’s world is all hollow bones, collapsed lungs, vapor waves moving slow as mountains. The album art by Hyperdub standby Optigram nails this in: 山 giving way to 水, everything solid melting into air at a steady 92 bpm.