Putting the pieces together
If an artist has a career that’s been going on since 1994, that artist is probably doing something people want to hear. Such is the case with South African DJ and producer Black Coffee, whose sixth studio album, Subconsciously, delivers more of the same quality that his fans have come to expect. The songs bring sounds that many people haven’t heard as of late due to lockdowns for clubs and bars, so the entire album invokes this kind of pre-pandemic nostalgia.
Take, for instance, the third track, “SBCNCSLY,” featuring singer-songwriter Sabrina Claudio. The thumping beat and repetitive hook with dazzling synths played over top make this the kind of song that evokes this dark haziness, pushed into a crowd of people and lit only by whatever light show the DJ has going on. And that’s not really something most people are able to get anymore. This kind of hazy feeling is also present on “Lost,” a collaboration between Black Coffee and DJ Angelo with a feature from Jinadu. The song builds slowly, featuring darker, almost ominous sounds with lyrics about danger and the unending march of time, all the while keeping a constant backbeat with synths and drums. It feels surprisingly almost aggressive for its general tone, and as the album’s first song, it sets the mood for the rest of the tracks extremely well.
It’s clear that Black Coffee knows what’s needed to make it as a DJ. His beats are on point, not just for the mood he’s trying to set but for his vocalists as well. The features are star-studded on this album, including some names that haven’t really made waves since the 2000s. Cassie, who is probably most famous for the song “Me & U,” is featured on “Time,” in which Black Coffee pushes a dreamy synth over her voice to amplify the ambient feeling he’s going for. And there are some stars who have been in the game just as long as Black Coffee himself—the ever present Pharrell Williams is included on the song “10 Missed Calls.” Ultimately, being a DJ has a lot to do with your connections and who you can pull to feature on your songs, and Subconsciously doesn’t slack on talent.
But none of that matters if the songs are lacking. You could get the greatest vocalist of all time on a song and if the song isn’t written well, there’s not much they can do to save it. But Subconsciously certainly isn’t pulling any punches. The strongest song on the album, “Flava,” has an incredible series of horn hits that ride the beat in a dynamic way. Vocalists Una Rams and Tellaman, both South African like Black Coffee, lend their voices to this utterly distinct song that finds its groove from the first beat and doesn’t let it go until the runtime’s through.
Subconsciously is a great album, full stop. The beats are excellent, the features are excellent; it’s all fantastic. And in a world where people can’t get this kind of music by going out to clubs anymore, it’s well worth a listen to bring some of that experience to the home.