Review Summary: Not the Dela you know and love, but an almost equally viable alternative from France with a good ear for jazz and American rappers.
Dela - Changes of Atmosphere
On Dela's second album Changes of Atmosphere
, there is a trace of unadorned irony and coincidence that does a lot to explain the nuance of Dela's sound. On the song "The Plan," guest rappers Dynas and Lycian rap about America's cavalier foreign policy as a way to contrast the domestic failure surrounding Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. It's certainly not an original poetic construct but to hear the following lines, "Eight days in the Superdome / Most was losin' their homes / For your deeds, New Orleans / Is knee deep in corpses / Five days behind you wouldn't leave your fortress," rapped over faux-jazz and faux-hip hop has its own strange logic to diplomacy versus domesticity. Dela, a white French producer writes jazz-infused hip hop, which means taking two musical traditions borne from African-American culture and creating his own armchair interpretation. Dynas and Lucian, two black American rappers, criticize white America's mishandling of non-white peoples both abroad and in New Orleans, a predominantly black area of the country that was originally a French colony. Furthermore, the existence of blacks in the United States in the first place is a product of slavery, which itself is a product of European colonization. Despite all of these twisting strands of causality and musical reappropriation that point to Dela's music being blaxsploitation, there is a tremendous harmony because Dela's jazzy hip hop and his guest rappers' protest lyrics. Simply put, it works. It's as if Dela's music is its own special form of diplomacy that dispels the lamentable history of white expansion and black subjugation by embracing the silver lining: black culture's positive contributions to American, and at this point, global culture, namely musical the musical developments, hip hop and jazz. Dela's music is an homage, a peace pipe, and a humble offering. Changes of Atmosphere
is his hopeful contribution.
To give a more tangible explanation for how these contrasting worlds fit into an actual aesthetic, his brand of hip hop is clearly split between the popping, organic beats of his classic hip hop loves (RZA and A Tribe Called Quest) and the jazz (fusion) of his previous project Soul Village (it's all Rhodes piano and synthesized horns). This mixture is Dela's sweet spot and is at its best on tracks like "I Say Peace." The song is driven by a repeated flute melody that sounds like it could have come from Light As a Feather
. The smooth synthesizer and looped saxophone have the same jazz fusion character. The beat on that track has a pretty standard but groovy feel with dotted bass drum accents and snappy snare work, perfectly complementing the lush production. And though this song is a quintessential Dela track, there are also songs that find subtle ways to deviate from that formula. The best track on the album "Long Life," combines a downright mellifluous synthesizer bassline with slow wah-wah guitar licks and delicate vocal samples over a midtempo beat. The beat of "Vibrate" is somewhat raw with strange phased-out pianos, DJ scratching, and oddball production gimmicks that sound like UFO noises, yielding a track that feels like Dan the Automator imitating Wu Tang. If Dela can be faulted it's for not exploring these more divergent musical paths more often. Though his jazzy, smooth tracks are great, hearing delayed saxophones and Rhodes piano on more than 3/4s of the album is overkill and doesn't just invite "Long Life" and "Vibrate," but essentially demands them. Dela's core aesthetic defines his sound and his surface appeal as an artist but is ultimately a hindrance to Changes of Atmosphere
becoming a classic album.
Vibe and feel can only go so far when constructing a full length album so thankfully Dela has impeccable taste when it comes to guest vocalists and emcees. Talib Kweli graces "Long Life" with self-assured digs at "fake rappers" with enjoyable assertions that he doesn't "go for Pro Tools." As aforementioned, the lyrics and rapping for "The Plan" are the perfect complement to the musical backdrop. However, Queens Connex and Termanology's lyrics on "Stress" are slightly aggressive with a comparatively chopped up flow, undercutting the smoothness of Dela's sound and producing a nice contrast. Perhaps the best lyrical performance on the album comes on the final track, "Changes of Atmosphere." The lyrics recount the strife associate with a young Supastition putting himself on the stage and being harshly received in different cities around the US and finally feeling at home in France via Dela's delicate, soulful production. The lead-in to the second chorus explains Dela's appeal so well.
Originally Posted by "Changes of Atmosphere"
*** where I'm from / To me that's irrelevant / This fella get attention cause I stuck to my guns / I ain't trippin if somebody's grossin more than me / I'm just thankful that my music found a home overseas."
Dela ably hosts a range of American emcees thanks to solid if somewhat rutted production, and an immediately likable but also sophisticated sound. Dela's music is not jet-setting or superficially global, but is a careful combination of musical traditions that leaves the listener receptive and satisfied.