Zen is a 2001 album by DJ Krush. And lest you think the name means just another clueless wanker jumping on an oh-so-trendy bandwagon, bear in mind that not only was DJ Krush born Hideaki Ishii, but the zen in question is not 禅, "meditation", but 漸, glossed "steadily; gradually advancing; finally; barely" by JDIC. (Yup, Japanese has a lot of homonyms. For example, the Zenmart department store in Shibuya is not a clearinghouse for spiritual enlightenment, as in this case the zen is written 全, meaning simply "all" or "everything".)

Naming issues aside, perhaps the best way to think of 漸 is as a compilation album, since on every track except the first Krush collaborates with another artist, ending up with wildly divergent results. Track by track:

  1. Song 1 - The only solo track on the album, a soft, nearly ambient introduction.
  2. Zen Approach featuring Black Thought - Solid but unspectacular hiphop.
  3. Danger of Love featuring Zap Mama - Pure soul, Zap Mama croons about love and Krush-y sounds are nowhere to be heard.
  4. Sonic Traveler featuring Tunde Ayaynemi - Hip-hop backed with traditional Nigerian instruments.
  5. Duck Chase featuring phonosycographDISK - Spectacularly bizarre turntablism with Zebraneck of the Invisibl Skratch Piklz.
  6. Vision of Art featuring Company Flow - CF hitting hard with lyrics treading the thin line between brilliance and insanity ("afterburn full thrust monks react trackless / come to confront funk slugs with salt tactics...").
  7. Day's End featuring Kazufumi Kodama - A mellow beat and Kazu warbling on a trumpet, nearly jazzy.
  8. With Grace featuring N'dea Davenport - More soul set to a massive beat, but on a more melancholy note.
  9. Candle Chant (A Tribute) featuring BOSS THE MC - One of the very few decent Japanese rap songs I've heard, telling the story of a visit to a friend's grave.
  10. Endless Railway featuring Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson - Indeed.
  11. Whutz' Da Solution featuring Kukoo Da Baga Bonez - A seemingly well-intentioned but fairly annoying rap song complaining about envy and jealousy.
  12. ゴクラクチョウ論 (Paradise Bird Theory) featuring Sunja Lee - A Japanese song ineptly translated to English (typical example: 「孤独や破局感からなる破壊衝動」 becomes "impulse of destruction stems out of solitude and the air of catastrophe") and sung -- more like read, really -- by an equally inept speaker. The original lyrics are included in the CD booklet, but the original song isn't.

With this range it's really quite surprising that the album works at all, and for most part it does, although I find the last few songs to be a bit of a letdown. Based on a quick googling it seems most reviewers agree with this, except that they all disagree about which songs they don't like! (I also found the repeated attempts to draw lofty parallels to the tenets of Zen Buddhism amusing, but I digress...)

Just the same, some of the songs are absolutely brilliant, and the backdrop of Krush's massive beats eases even the transitions from (almost) gangster rap to (almost) light jazz remarkably. In all, I like it, and if you're into broken beats or hip-hop of any flavor you'll probably agree.