Cakedog Doggystyle

[Leaving; 2019]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: footwork, ambient
Others: Ahnnu, RP Boo, DJ Nate, Taso

Footwork is such an inscrutable genre that you’re hard pressed to find a review that doesn’t open with a lengthy rumination on its identity. That’s understandable; although the music itself often lacks literal narratives or themes as much as any dancefloor utility, the footwork metaverse is ripe for discussion. In most cases, this discourse revolves around the scene’s past and present lives, its first in the 1990s and 2000s as an off-kilter outgrowth of Chicago’s dance culture and its second in the teens, dissected by bloggers taken by footwork’s avant-garde trappings and polished/sanitized by the boutique labels that back it.

L.A.-based producer Cakedog, better known as beatmaker/collagist Ahnnu, helped establish footwork’s West Coast home in the genre’s second life, whisking his own orchestral soundscapes into the genre’s traditional syncopated rhythms. While footwork’s initial vision has been preserved by Teklife Records and neo-classicized by Jlin’s forays into ballet and high-concept production, Cakedog’s 2014 debut Menace in the Phantom represented a third lane: a sort of domestic world music that seamlessly merged the L.A. Beat scene with Chicago’s sound. “Slam Dunkin,” which interpolates a Chief Keef loosie, still feels like post-locality in its most joyful form five years later.

On Doggystyle, Cakedog has compressed his once-chaotic and eclectic style into an approach that’s distinctly more minimal — more reminiscent of footwork’s formative years helmed by Rashad and RP Boo. Sheets of sub bass flood his skeletal compositions, pasting vocal chops and frenetic 808 samples into roomy tableaus. On “Go In,” an echoing vocal snippet and a Satie-esque piano riff form a foggy haze around digital drum fills. “Guts” is an exercise in trap-inflected minimalism, built almost solely around tinny Casio keys. Footwork’s defining elements are presented here in their sparest form, flexing Cakedog’s ear for what makes it tick.

Doggystyle represents some of the genre’s most listenable and compact output, yet it lacks the essentiality of its predecessor. There isn’t a moment as arresting as the aforementioned “Slam Dunkin” this time around, though “Know My Name” and “Rocked” allude to even greater potential yet to be unlocked. The former, laden with brass samples and sliced police sirens, presents the record’s strongest and densest construction. The latter veers into the sound design of 1980s synth pop, an inclusion that fits surprisingly seamlessly into Cakedog’s work. When he’s willing to nudge against his own boundaries, slightly warping the edges of his production, Cakedog’s in his element.

Gritty and atmospheric, Doggystyle marinates in its own vibes, but doesn’t quite fill its wonky beats to capacity. As footwork ventures into progressive territory on recent records like Hidefumi Kenmochi’s cinematic 沸騰 沸く ~Footwork~ LP and Blank Banshee’s Metamorphosis, Cakedog’s carving out a stripped-back lane on the brink of germination.

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