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.