A Global Album for Those Tired of Mainstream Rap
Yoga philosophies, hip-hop beats and Indian instruments — it’s an ambitious combination, but one that DJ Drez and Zaire Black boldly present on their second joint project, Aficionados. Across 18 tracks, the duo embark on a global journey calling upon the teachings and musical styles of several regions to create their album.
Materialism and masculinity, two themes that often come to the forefront in hip-hop, are nowhere to be found on Aficionados. “I have what I need,” Black raps on “Abundance.” The song details how the rapper finds his happiness through the energy of his surroundings and love for himself and others, explained over relatively upbeat production by DJ Drez. Black flips this proclamation into a challenge to the rest of the hip-hop world on “They,” starting off the song with the phrase, “They breathing but not believing / they rocking low energy / we ain’t running with none of that.” The song features a guest verse from L.A. underground rap queen Medusa, who raps, “Got a hot track but with an empty backpack / rhymes with no content / cause the only thing you know how to do is brag.”
Black draws inspiration from both Hindu and Christian teachings and frequently invokes them throughout the album. “Krishna and Jesus taught the sublime / there’s a disciple inside me that searches the divine,” he raps on “Guru.” On “Dosha Talk,” the artist delves further into Indian culture, describing the three doshas of Ayurvedic tradition. Black speaks out of respect, showing how all three doshas can come together to promote a healthy, balanced life. For cohesion, tracks, such as “Dosha Talk,” that preach Indian philosophy also heavily incorporate the country’s musical instruments and styles. Broadening its global scope, DJ Drez takes his listeners to Jamaica on other parts of the album, using traditional reggae patterns on “Earth People” and inviting established reggae singer Warrior King to lend his voice.
Clocking in around 63 minutes, Aficionados is a long, fatiguing listen through. The majority of the project is downtempo, with aggressive, harder beats sprinkled in to keep it moving. The meshing of so many elements can be overwhelming at times, which is especially true on “I Will I Want.” The patchwork of samples loosely organized around a basic drum loop proves too distracting to allow Black’s message to come through, as the rapper abruptly cuts off his rhymes mid-verse so that snippets of more famous songs can take center stage.
Overall, however, DJ Drez’s production outpaces the contributions of Zaire Black on the project. The airy, light beats are well suited for relaxing in the sunshine or a drive down the coast with enough variation to always keep the listener wondering what’s coming next. On the flip side, Black’s rhyme schemes and delivery leave much to be desired, taking away from the noble messages he preaches throughout the album. On “Boarding Passes,” he rhymes, “We going for a ride? / yeah, down every time / it’s just you and I / just you and I / just you and I.” On the opening track, “Push It Up,” corny verses, such as “mindful, caress the earth, thank you feelings, reincarnated, rocking the truer living,” throw the song from the hazy groove, and could stand to be improved. Still, the duo exhibit good chemistry throughout the album, making Aficionados an intriguing option for those looking to expand their hip-hop borders.