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Nosaj Thing: Tracing the line from Dre to Radiohead*

July 24, 2009 | 10:00 am

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Nosaj Things’ beats defy both gravity and locality. They exist in that ethereal gap between sleep and sentience, simultaneously hitting like granite and floating above air. With footprints firmly rooted in hip-hop, 24-year-old Jason Chung stealthily zig-zags through murky, adventurous electronics, London dubstep, alternative-universe pop, Danny Elfman-quirkiness and classical music. 

His debut album, “Drift,” recently released on Daddy Kev’s Alpha Pup imprint, alternates between absorbing and radiating electricity, with self-explanatory song titles including “Fog,” “Cave” and “Light.”

But while “Drift” seemingly emanates from a shadowland detached from geography, its creator is an Angeleno, born and raised. While riding the school bus in the third grade, the young Cerritos native became obsessed with Power 106 (105.9) and the old 92.3, specifically the G-Funk era of Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Warren G. 

But his genre-flouting sound reflects an omnivorous palette -- unsurprising, considering the Pasadena resident got his smart at downtown Punk Rock tabernacle, The Smell. Currently affiliated with the Low End Theory club crowd, Cheung will join Low End founder Daddy Kev and DJ trio the Glitch Mob at the Roxy tonight for a night of hypnotic head-nodding.

In advance of the performance, Pop and Hiss asked him to discuss the albums that most profoundly influenced him.

Dr. Dre -- “The Chronic”

"I used to always listen to both Power and The Beat, back when the Beat Junkies were still on the air. I remember the most exciting thing in the world was to hear a new beat from Dr. Dre or Timbaland -- their beats were like a vortex for me.

I tended to prefer songs where the production and the producer was the focus and the MC was more of a collaborator. Listening to a producer like Dre made me realize that there were brilliant people behind the boards actually making the beats."

A Tribe Called Quest -- “Beats, Rhymes and Life”

"I was really into Tribe Called Quest. I’m only 24, so I didn’t really discover them until 'Beats, Rhymes and Life,' but it was only well after the fact when I learned that most of the songs I liked were produced by J Dilla. I’d always thought that they were made by Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Those beats instantly drew me in -- I was too young to pay attention to lyrics, so the rapping was just great percussion.

J Dilla’s music always struck me with its honesty. There aren’t any extra bells and whistles, his main idea is to express the soul of the song. He did everything tastefully. It sounds pure."

Boards of Canada -- “Music Has a Right to Children”

"Their work has a hip-hop and breakbeat element that I responded to, but more than that it was how they were able to instill so much emotion into their tracks. The fact that they were able to achieve this with instrumentals was always something that I was drawn to -- even without vocals, their music never got boring.

I got into the rave scene pretty early on and listening to House music and Drum and Bass was a pretty big influence. It was all about the groove. But growing up, I used to listen to pop songs on the radio and '90s rock too -- a lot of '90s rock. I guess I just sort of subconsciously synthesized the formula for rock and pop and confused it with hip-hop and underground dance music."

Radiohead -- “Kid A”

"When I first heard 'Kid A,' I couldn’t stop listening to it for months. I got into Radiohead a little late, I was so into hip-hop and electronic music that I’d stopped listening to rock. A co-worker of mine suggested that I’d really like it, so I did and quickly became obsessed.

In particular, I “really loved the tracks 'Kid A' and ['OK Computer's'] 'Paranoid Android.' It was just really interesting to hear that kind of fusion, it was really brilliant. 'Kid A' is a cinematic record and that’s what I was really drawn to. I love electronic music because you get to have full control of every sound and Radiohead found a way to pare that with unbelievable melodies."

-- Jeff Weiss

Nosaj Thing, Daddy Kev and Glitch Mob at the Roxy, Friday, July 24, 9009 Sunset Blvd. For more information, call (310) 278-9457. Cover: $20.  

Photo: Nosaj Thing. Credit: Terrorbird

*UPDATED: An earlier version of this post incorrectly spelled Jason Chung's last name as Chueng. And thanks authur "Ooops" in the comments -- we have now made that point clear in Chung's quote above.

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