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Album Review: Jesse Boykins III & Melo X - Zulu Guru

5 October 2012 | 2:22 pm | Tom Birts

MeLo X’s production is tight, and his verses better than the album’s visitors. A case of less being more.

Jesse Boykins III and MeLo X's collaboration album Zulu Guru is a curious mix of Afro-centrism and neo-swag, encapsulated by their promotion of the 'Schwaza' style. It sounds like Swahili, but isn't – 'Schwaza' is merely a mispronunciation of 'swag'; an in-joke taken as far as Urban Dictionary. Whether it is any more than this is for the listener to interpret (hint: probably not).

Production is nice throughout, and the spoken word stopgaps are top-notch. Zulu Guru hits rough ground only when the sincerity of song and sound is clumsily expressed through some truly pedestrian rap. Exhibit A: “You got nice tastes and a real smooth face” (Black Orpheus). Lines like this from the likes of DOOM would raise a smile, but roll off the tongue like square wheels on a Cadillac when delivered so earnestly. Likewise, “I can't do this/Quick, somebody find a Buddhist/Or someone to give advice” (Change Of Heart) is but one line swimming in a pool of poor lyricism. Luckily, there are tracks like Primal Chance featuring Mara Hruby to remind us why we made it this far. It's a beautifully-layered and perfectly contoured piece of music. Please sirs – can we have some more?

All told, the album is a lament to talent spread just a little too thinly. Boykins has the populist magnetism of John Legend, and the neo-soul potency of Bilal or Musiq Soulchild. MeLo X's production is tight, and his verses better than the album's visitors. A case of less being more.