A former high school calculus teacher from West Philly, Zakee Kuduro didn’t get into writing and producing hip-hop until his last year of college. He wrote his first full-length album, Assimilations, on an extended stay in Brazil after falling in love with the country while on a tour of South America supporting Erykah Badu and Seun Kuti. His music shows more promise in its multifaceted production — layers of thumping bass, afrobeat samples, and an overall vibe of metallic tension — than on any particular song.
ZAKEE is versatile, almost to a fault. He starts off channeling TV on the Radio on “Freedom”. By the final tracks of the album, he’s bumping huge club party beats on “Double Up” and “Rise Up”, sounding a lot like something Rye Rye would go for (no surprise there– he’s worked with her and should do it again in the future). He’s genetically engineered the sunny songs “Dope Girl” and “Push the Power” for smoking up. They’re harmless and catchy but not particularly meaningful or inventive.
In between, he settles into some thick, dark rhythms that have more meat to them. Standout track “Spotlight” moves like a lava lamp, hypnotic and never at ease, undulating forward at the determined pace of a zombie. It’s trippy and slippery. Songs like this, and “Glory” and “Shadow”, showcase ZAKEE’s sharp ear for timing and layering sound (including his own voice) in a way that is understated and powerful.
Assimilations suggests that ZAKEE is finding his footing and experimenting, but hasn’t yet unlocked his full creative potential. But it’s there, simmering. The album feels like a warm-up exercise for better things to come.
Essential Tracks: “Spotlight”, “Glory”, and “Shadow”