Monday, April 20, 2009

El Michels Affair - Enter the 37th Chamber | Review

El Michels Affair
Enter the 37th Chamber
Release Date: April 21st, 2009
Truth and Soul Records/Fat Beats Records

Representing a revival of funk and soul, groups like the Budos Band and the Menahan Street Band – just to name a few – have effortlessly converged with the sounds and realm of hip hop. If you’ll recall from our very first sample set, producers The Hitmen provided a stirring backdrop for Jay-Z’s 2007 American Gangster, notably sampling a Menahan track titled “Make the Road by Walking” for Jay-Z’s “Roc Boys (And the Winner Is)…”. A perfect fusion of like-minded orient and styles.

Likewise, El Michels Affair – a group that has epitomized the description “Cinematic Soul” – are particularly deep-rooted in hip hop strata. Performing live as the backing band for a nation tour alongside Raekwon and fellow Wu-Tang cohorts, EMA have made a name for themselves with their reinterpretations of The Abbot’s gritty, soul-packed compositions. Releasing these covers as periodical singles through the Truth and Soul Records imprint, EMA has accumulated an album’s worth of material: It’s time to Enter the 37th Chamber.

El Michels Affair’s latest offering – a follow-up to Sounding Out the City, their 2005 debut – is likely to entice Wu-Tang fanatics more so than any other segment of the population. Certainly, Wu-fans will be amped to hear these soulful reimaginings of treasured classics; but the quality of EMA’s lush soundscapes are enough to keep any music enthusiast enthralled. Influenced by RZA’s own affinity for dusty keys, haunting strings, knocking drums and the prerequisite use of kung-fu film snippets, EMA pulls out all the stops, gifting Enter the 37th Chamber with perfectly-reverbed instrumentation. Tracks such as “Uzi (Pinky Ring)”, featuring vibrant horns and funky wah-wah riffs, as well as the bass-heavy “Protect Ya Neck”, achieve Blaxploitation-esque plateaus.

With each passing song bares a new surprise and, perhaps, a newfound appreciation for RZA’s repertoire. El Michels Affair’s covers – particularly on the two aforementioned tracks – help in unveiling RZA’s knack for segmenting his tracks to best accompany the emcee’s voice and style. Rapping the vocals to these funky instrumentals should be an involuntary impulse if, of course, you’re well-versed with the lyrics – which is why, for fans of the Clan, this release is a must-have. EMA have truly found a niche that is neither gimmicky nor tedious. In short, there are plenty of “suuuuus” to be had here.

Sharpest Swords: “Mystery of Chessboxin'”, “Uzi (Pinky Ring)” & “Heaven & Hell”