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Album reviews
Artist:
Keita Juma
Album:
Young Zen Mode
Release year:
2019
Label:
Self-released
23 May 2019 / by Demar Grant (author)

Movements: industrial rap, electronica, alternative rap

Lane: early Goldlink, Solange, Vince Staples 

 

It's been an entire decade since Keita Juma's first release, The Headphone, and with any ten-year musical career there's bound to be experimentation. No artist stays the same. And That's why Juma's newest record, Young Zen Mode, an album that bounces between genres, is no surprise. Young Zen Mode starkly shifts from rap to electronica and everything in between. But while YZM is a testament to Juma's versatility and evolution over the past decade, it never coalesces into a cohesive project.

The first fistful of YZM are inky.

Young Zen Mode launches with 'Hol Tight', a menacing, dark and hollow track that's ironic to the album's name. Juma tells 'my whole generation/ hold tight/' as the unending, echoing afrobeat drums create an aura of a night hunt. Lyrics are sparse while they play secondary to the stellar production.

Language is at a minimum throughout Young Zen Mode to the point of vocals sounding like they're mixed below everything else. The brilliant production of YZM is the forefront of every song. A couple tracks later on 'U Got Me' Juma uses breaks in bars to help the beat breathe. Juma rhymes about relaxation and how he "don't let no stress/ penetrate my flesh/" in the pockets between spectral synths and heartbeat 808's. It's digital, dark and skeletal.

The opposite exists here too. ‘Nature’’s chirping birds and bubbling dance beats feature Juma's constant lowkey rapping. Playing back-up for its tranquility, Juma is essentially the vocals to an electro song. Keita Juma is "in the essence/ yeah, it's purest form/", he allows the beat completely envelope him while contributes just enough to push it forwards.

The minimalist nature of Keita Juma's lyrics via repetition and vast breaks allow for bouncing between genres but it deteriorates YZM's cohesion. Deeper into the record, serene tunes like 'Pools' and 'Nice' with their breezy, looping synths and delicate keys are tethered to the digitized 'U Got Me' and the janky, dial tone warped 'Serious'.

YZM's sound is so expansive it overextends in it's 36-minute run time creating an album that doesn't really know what it is. The production on most tracks are sterling but what should feel like a daisy chain of songs is instead tangled yarn.

Young Zen Mode plays as a grab bag of tunes or two halves of two different projects. Half of YZM stalks the oppressive, pitch streets of Blade Runner's Los Angeles while the other lounges in the Garden of Eden. Ten years in the game has taught Keita Juma how to do both but an album should only do one.

Rating: 6.5/10

Fire: Nature, Hol Tight, Pools, Numba One, Nice

Ice: Heroes. All Praise Due, Serious, Upx4

 

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The author

Demar Grant

aka Deminem, aka Lil Demi Vert, aka Demar like DeRozan is a music journalist and critic at CJRU. Follow him @DemarJGrant on Twitter where he argues J.Cole is overrated with strangers on the internet.

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