Rating: 8 / Format: CD/LP / Label: Rapster
Shafiq Husayn’s got a long history in music: a third of hip-hop production team Sa-Ra Creative Partners, he learnt to cut from Afrika Bambaattaa and Afrika Islam, cooled out in L.A. with Egyptian Lover, did a stint with Ice-T’s Rhyme Syndicate, and he’s the only person Erykah Badu allows to write for her. Compare and contrast with the brilliant, strange focus of her excellent New Amerykah album from last year, and it’s easy to see the same madcap creativity at work.
This is true Bohemian Black Pop. Husayn makes music that sounds like a psychedelic laptop jamboree; tracks fade in and out as if they’re part of longer ritual sessions, an Afrofuturistic rag-bag of drum machines, synths, lumbering drums, brass and percussion. Singers and MCs contribute to most of these tracks, and everything is weirdly off-focus; the sound dense, full of echoed psychedelic FX and splashes of sound.
Shafiq’s a positivity kind of guy; his vocals here are really chants and incantations disguised as rapping, the guest vocalists acting as a foil and focus to the cosmic slop, complimenting the often lovely melodies. Check the epic ‘U.N. Plan’ where the track breaks down into a languid Balearic/electronic section – it’s these extra touches that make the album one in which you discover new things with every listen. Shafiq En A-Free-Ka splashes between focused songs and fuzzier, more abstract tracks; the record’s climax, ‘Major Heavy’, sounds like an extension from Prince’s Around the World in a Day with Bacharch strings and Mariachi horns. Ultimately it’s the way Shafiq messes with the unrecognizable to make it sound familiar, and the way he makes the clichés sound strange that makes this album so curious and so exciting – reaching heights that his work with his Sa-Ra often fails to.