Under Review

Aktu El Shabazz

Aktu El Shabazz

F.L.O.W. Vol I.

author
Tintin Yang

F.L.O.W Vol. I reads like a personal anthology of Atku El Shabazz fighting for the spotlight as an independent rapper, and communicating his experience of black identity in the twenty-first century. The Brooklyn turned Vancouver-based rapper’s debut release has character, teems with confidence, and features a nostalgic production quality.

The tracks on F.L.O.W Vol. I are highly influenced by Beast Coast rap, especially concerning the production. Samples from icons such as MF Doom and Pete Rock, to name a few make their way onto the album. The project also takes on elements of jazz and old-school hip hop. The punchy lines and tongue-in cheek lyrics are reminiscent of lyrics that might be written by the likes of Flatbush Zombies and aren’t afraid to delve explicitly into the realm of race politics.

Throughout the album featured artists are incorporated sparingly. They seem to act as hype for El Shabazz, never stealing the spotlight. The supporting rappers cleverly propel the story of each song, and help facilitate an interesting dialogue.

El Shabazz raps boldly, referencing his hustle as an unsigned rapper. The overarching theme of the album is a genuinely elevated self-esteem, and an underlying self-awareness. “F.L.O.W.” the opening track on the album, contains an intro featuring excerpts from “Genesis 1:9”; when taken with the rest of the lyrics on the track, would reflect a new beginning, or rather, a very boisterous introduction to El Shabazz’s emergence in Vancouver’s hip hop scene.

“All the Way Live” reminds us that there are moments of easy-listening and lackadaisical lyricism dispersed throughout the rest of the album’s intensity. “I AM” is easily the highlight of the album, with features of smooth jazz, punchy drum machines, and El Shabazz’s most political lyrics — “Black anger / Black youth / Black hoodie / Bag of skittles / Arizona, don’t shoot.” The song reads as an homage to his identity and forms a critical commentary regarding systemic oppression and police brutality.

On his debut release, Atku El Shabazz brings his personality and Brooklyn roots to the West Coast. F.L.O.W Vol. I proves to be a vibrant self portrait, full of personality and some punch to boot.

Gal Gracen

Gal Gracen

The Hard Part Begins

author
Evangeline Hogg

It doesn’t always take the loudest band to garner attention. Despite the fact that Patrick Geraghty, lead vocalist and songwriter for Gal Gracen, has mentioned on multiple occasions that his intent was to create pleasant background music, The Hard Part Begins goes a bit further. While it might be dream-pop, theatrical elements, lush vocals, and quiet elegance hold it to a higher standard than just “background music.” The band’s third album has a similar vibe to previous recordings, but offers a more fantastical quality. It could be fitting for some sort of new-age fairytale, and that’s meant in the best way possible.

Songs flow nicely into one another, but are also beautiful on their own. The opener, and title track for the album, “The Hard Part Begins,” is a dreamy, classic crooner dusted with warm guitar and low warbling vocals. Geraghty’s voice is reminiscent of vocals you may have heard in your grandparents’ music collection. It’s nostalgic but remains fresh. But what keeps Gal Gracen from sounding dated is the drone of synths, which creep into the following track, “Sincerely Baby Dumpling.” The lyrics to this particular song describe the usual neurotic thoughts of a wallflower in love, and a delicate piano sets the tone for a sensitive ballad. While things seem to be floating along in the same direction of the expected odes to the socially cautious, elements of ‘60s psychedelia, much like Donovan, are met with surfer rock in “Who Is Standing By The Door.” It’s a nice touch, and the gentle acoustic undertones behind the electric twang create a warmth behind Geraghty’s voice. The final track, “God’s Country,” is once again a nod to the ‘60s but with a more wistful, ethereal quality. It’s a hushed song and makes an excellent closer for the album.

There is a sense of modesty that comes along with Gal Gracen’s music. Despite the textured layers of beautifully orchestrated instruments that glide listeners easily through the album, one can’t help but wonder if the band is holding back. Maybe not everyone in the room is noticing the intricacies of this album, but it’s still worth throwing on if you’re in need of some mood music.