Zubz - Cochlea - One Last Letta

2009-04-03 16:21
One Last Letta
Fair enough, this is relatively early in the album, but there’s just something about this intro that feels amiss. From RJ Benjamin’s ghostly moans of deepest agony to Zubz’s staccato cyclic bursts of cliché – the thing just fails to convince you to join the ride to whatever mystic vantage point is being alluded to by the musos. Perhaps it’s the heavy whisper-flowed tone of self-seriousness or Zubz’s overt self-consciousness in tackling the profound – (“Take a seat. Take a breath”) – but the effort comes across as vapid, postured, plodding, and boring.

Next up is “The Entertainer - Smoke Screen Bounce”. A budget minimalist beat grates frustratingly against what’s easily the album’s most annoying chorus. Ostensibly, it’s done as a parody of the old adage that music should move bodies and not minds. Zubz plays both parts here: the obnoxious production is thrown up as a smoke screen through which he kicks a sermon on being crucified by the music industry, heckled by fans wanting to “bounce”, and “waging an assault on ignorance”. Zubz sounds passionate on the mic, and to its advantage, the beat grows texture as it progresses but, once again, there’s hardly anything new or inspired enough here to drive the message through.

“Drowning – Out of Time” (yes, the entire album has hyphenated song–titles) carries more of the same formula: persecution complex + melodramatic production = bore. The thing is, as much time as Zubz spends pointing out his martyrdom, you end up at a loss as to why anyone would make a martyr of him to begin with: his music is mildly politicised, he’s essentially a mainstream artist, and lyrically, he’s hard to pick out from a crowd.

Thankfully, the album is divided into three sections and this part – let’s call it ‘industry persecution’ – ends three tracks down the line and gives way to the second chapter: man, woman and tribulation.

This section kicks off with the bouncy “Part Time Lover – Full Time Freek”, a flighty infectious track reminiscent of OutKast at their most playful and radio-friendly. Lyrically, Zubz adds a slice of life feel to the track, dousing it here and there with obliquely hilarious adlibs. The next track, “Love’s Blind – My Girls’ a...” recalls Slum Village on a soulful J Dilla beat. Zubz protests against accusations on his lady’s fidelity, while at the same time giving her the third degree: “tell me the truth: those extra jobs on the weekend, mms’s when we’re sleeping, locked folder pics?!” The next three tracks “Private Show”, “I Got This” and “A pot of Green Tea” close the chapter in an equally banging hat trick.

Zubz has come a long way since “Multiple Choice”: when he’s not vaguely lambasting capitalism, the Zambia-born Zimbabwe-raised emcee really has a penchant for lyrically capturing the feel and detail of everyday life, making you see from what you hear. Plus, here he seems comfortable and the music sounds dope, full of humour and feeling, with him dropping some of his best flows to date.

The last chapter: interesting, textured beats underscore ‘abstract’ musings on what could either be spirituality, self or autonomy, but is probably all three. In any case, it isn’t done very well. It’s heckled by cliché and sometimes it can veer dangerously close to the cringe-worthiness of an open-mic poetry night:

“There’s nothing impossible in my state of mind...out here I’m Captain Kirk, out here I am Batman and Robin.”

Guests, Lebo Mashile, Tracey Lee and Rantoboko make amazing contributions, though. 

Overall the album is listenable – the second chapter alone can stand as a reason for purchase. But if there’s anything Cochlea proves, it’s this: the sombre, inward-looking Zubz might need to take a few lessons from his cooler, outward-looking counterpart.
The album opens with a melancholy guitar strummed over a low-toned symphony of orchestral voices, distorted electric-guitar, and spooky wailing. On vocals: the newly-ubiquitous RJ Benjamin provides background crooning as Zubz “sets the tone”, dropping a hypnotic spoken word mantra, advising you to fight adversity with “love-thoughts” while he plants “seeds in your ear – the inner ear – the cochlea.”

What to read next: Kalahari

Maddstone 2009/03/31 11:01 PM
That's Silverado Entertainment's main producer Ameen on "part time lover", plus "I got this" and "private show". The boy is awesome. Expect Silverado Entertainment to make some big moves in 2009. Big ups to them.
PartTimeLover 2009/04/09 12:05 PM
Dude, I totally disagree with what you've written. Obvisouly we all have different ears but DAMN girl, you make this album sound like your run of the mill hip hop record, which it's not and Zubz is not "hard to pick out from the croud, lyrically". Do you really think his first two albums were mainstream? I'd say this is more mainstream than his previous albums but far from being mundane and ordinary! Guess not everybody loves it, it's okay - the rest of us do!
Sabre 2009/05/22 9:14 AM
I respectfully have to say that I completely disagree with the reviewer on this one. Fair enough, I am a die-hard Zubz fan so I'm likely to love whatever he puts out, but I do consider myself objective when it comes to critiquing music. And this album is so not the average African Hip-Hop album. If the reviewer is talking from the stand point of someone who hasn't heard a Zubz album before, then I'll agree that his more introspective songs may be a little daunting for new listeners who aren't familair with his honesty and tone. But it is still in no way as boring as the review makes it sound. Nor is Zubz "vapid" in delivering his scripts, whatever the mood or tone of the track. I think he has clearly distinctive approaches to all his tracks and you can easily feel what head space he is in on a particular song. So I don't get how any part of this album can be called "plodding". Judging by the tracks that the reviewer liked the most, I'd say they might not be as familiar with the essence of the more cerebrally motivated Hip-Hop that Africa has to offer. And if they were looking for Zubz to provide them with more radio friendly, chart banging tracks with less meaning, then I'm not suprised they feel the way they do about the album. Zubz isn't about that. And that is what makes him an MC and not just a rapper. Personally I think that this album does take a step in showing us a more playful side of Zubz and as a fan I appreciate that. It shows his balance as an individual and an MC. I just don't think the reviewer gets it. And BTW: Lyrically Zubz is hard to pick out from the crowd? Lyrically Zubz is mainstream? I don't know what crowd this might be, but I would sure love to know. I think that before people review the music of a specific culture, like Hip-Hop, they take time to understand the culture itself. Then it would make more sense and people wouldn't come across as so painfully narrow minded and ignorant in their opinions.
Colbert Nengovhela 2009/06/11 10:48 AM
Dear Mr. Reviewer, I must agree with the other readers, i totally disagree with you. admittedly I'd never purchased a copy of Zubz till this year when i decided to try it. I've listned to the CD many a times, and the more you listen to it, the more you realize that the guy is not your average local hip hop act. Its the only CD i can listen to without skipping a song cos every song has a life on its own as the guy takes from from Harare in Batanai to Hillbrow in Love blind. Of all the local Hip Hop CDs I've ever bought this one takes the crown. Sabre is right by the way, that maybe if you took the time to understand hip hop culture you would get it cos you obviously dont. To Zubz, big up man, from now on, I'll always be waiting for the next album. I was always nervous to branch out from mainstream stuff but thanks to you, my fear of MCs has vanished.
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