This week, Swizz Beatz released the newest addition to his Monster Mondays series, and it was a full EP of mash-up material mixing songs he produced with the work of the legendary Afrobeat master. Don’t expect any new beats on here, the approach is very straight forward. A capellas from Swizz songs over music by Fela, some backdrops have been slightly rearranged to allow for the verse and hook structure of the vocals to remain but that’s about it.
As much respect and admiration I have for the music of Fela Anikulapo Kuti I have to admit there is such a thing as overdoing it. The reverence for the source material and might be the biggest flaw of this material (it’s either that or a hasty job, the latter seems unlikely though, why do a whole EP then?). Common and The Soulquarians already proved on Common’s ‘Like Water For Chocolate‘ that you can infuse a hip-hop production with Afrobeat moods and sounds and so did K’naan and J.Period with their ‘The Messengers‘ mixtape. The difference is that they were basing new material off samples, here two genres are smashed together in the hope that something will stick. Unfortunately, it rarely does.
Fela Kuti’s songs are largely instrumental, with the exception of the occasional vocal part where he and his background singers sing their chantlike vocals. When the songs on this mash-up have a similairly chantlike hook it fits (like in ‘Swing Your Rag‘) but when someone actually starts spitting it quickly becomes a cacophony of opposing sounds. Fela’s songs are simply too thick as they are to have a whole verse layered onto them, especially when it’s Busta going off like on ‘Touch It‘. The more R&B flavoured songs don’t fare much better here, as Swizz’s hits are sparse, synth-heavy club bangers to which Ms. Knowles singing fits like a glove. Paired with these warm, layered Afrobeat tunes though, her voice (and this is not a knock against her vocal talents) sounds unexpectedly shrill.
The only exception on the project is ‘Money In The Bank / Yellow Fever‘, the single joint that does work and sounds like a true party starter. If only this track was released on ‘Monster Monday‘ I would’ve called it a winner, now we just have an EP that sounds like you’re playing two different pieces of music simulatenously. It might be interesting to hear where Swizz Beatz would take Fela’s influence to in his own productions. Another episode in this mash-up series (it says vol.1) is something I’ll take a pass on though.