The title of Wales-based beatsmith Don Leisure’s latest instrumental album is a pun on the name of iconic rap star LL Cool J—but the vibe of the project is closer to the sort of dusty, mystical beats RZA perfected during the Wu-Tang Clan’s ’90s reign. Only here, the ’60s Stax soul samples and kung fu soundbites have been switched out for Eastern European loops and snatches of Turkish dialogue. It’s a head-nodding, static-coated musical blend that radiates a sense of sonic wanderlust.
Don Leisure’s obsession with Turkish music began when the producer—who’s also one half of Darkhouse Family, alongside Earl Jeffers—heard a podcast by renowned record collector Eothen “Egon” Alapatt that dove deep into Turkish funk. After Leisure’s cousin landed a job in Istanbul, he was able to fly out and indulge in some crate-digging, which only increased his passion for the music.
The gems Don Leisure unearthed on those record-buying trips to Turkey form the backbone of Halal Cool J, whose dominant melodic motif comes from what the producer calls “fuzzed-out traditional instruments.” Opening track “Emirgan Sunrise” hits home with a fanfare of sitars spiked with retro video game laser effects; the Wu-Tang influence comes through on “Only Built 4 Turkish Linx,” where scuzzy guitar lines battle choice verbal barbs from Raekwon; and smoother moments enter the mix via the moody ‘80s pop synths of “One For Hamit.” It all adds up to Halal Cool J charming as a vivid and creative crate-digging travelogue.