Onra OnraLong Distance
Not long ago, Óscar Broc spoke about the prolific and overexploited aspects of the instrumental hip hop scene. This saturated market has its greatest assets concentrated in the British Isles and sunny California. Nevertheless, like Broc said, not all of the capital operates in these two spots. Dimlite does its work in Switzerland, while its European neighbours join the movement in a sort of chain reaction. Many of you might be thinking of dÉbruit to illustrate this phenomenon in France. However, Onra might be the one to carry the banner of French beatmaking. But the thing is that Arnaud Bernard and his Asian features throw you off when it comes to predicting his nationality. It also doesn’t help that many were introduced to him through his first album, “ Chinoiseries,” built on a base of samples of Vietnamese music, and which ended up being one of the commercial songs of the Beijing Olympics, in the form of a Coca-Cola advertisement.
If Onra showed us his happier side in “Chinoiseries” and his darker side in his second album, “ 1.0.8,” with “Long Distance” he’s taking his suit with the wide lapels out of the closet, chilling a bottle of Veuve Clicquot, and making himself into a dandy who gets the ladies all wet between the legs with his catalogue of soul and 80’s R&B. It’s not really an amazing exercise in musical transformation—it’s just that he changes the shelf of records that he’s working from every time he makes an album. Nevertheless, “Long Distance” has details that have never been seen before in the Frenchman’s discography. This is the first time that he has incorporated vocal collaborations, and this logically requires structures that last over two minutes per track. This work couldn’t be an album of beats like “Chinoiseries,” a piece with 30 super-short cuts. The occasion called for songs, with all of their lyrics, which makes Onra less of a beatmaker and more of a producer—not in a technical sense, but rather stylistically. He recognised this himself: “ beatmaker defines what I am, but it doesn’t define the type of music I make,” is a statement that makes more sense after this album.
80’s R&B is the main star of the album, although there are other supporting actors, like hip hop in “ Rock On,” or 3T of Slum Village in “ The One,” or even the French dance floor touch; in fact, “ Wonderland” and especially “ Mechanical” could have been one of the many fakes that have come out of Daft Punk in recent years. But the real pearls of the album pay homage to the Afro-American boy bands plastered all over the folder covers of adolescents two decades ago. “ High Hopes” is like this, revising an S.O.S. Band song deliciously, with the erstwhile collaboration of Reggie B., sensual without being obscene, delicate without being effeminate. “ Long Distance” or “ To The Beat” follow in the sweet, syrupy wake of 80’s commercial R&B. This wave breaks and spreads out, mixing with all of the latest style of hip hop cuts, giving rise to little treasures like “ Oper8tor” or “ Cherry” that make the trip more pleasant and lower the dose of R&B glucose, so we don’t fall into a diabetic coma.
Some of my friends and I like to play “find the sample,” and when they heard the advance EP, they were as enthused as I was; but lately many of them have been calling into question the album’s quality because of how recognisable some of the samples are (it already has two entries on whosampled.com). Others have made no concessions and declared themselves to be official haters. On top of that, “ Moving” is made of many of the same elements as “ Get Up” by Washed Out, which has stirred up considerable controversy. According to the Frenchman it’s a coincidence, and he assures us that he has had that beat registered for a long time. Whether or not you accept the presumption of innocence, I think that people who are looking for original composition in a beatmaker’s album are like people looking for salad at McDonalds or a hug in a whorehouse. They’re in the wrong place, but even so, they will probably like what they hear.