Ben Sharpa – 4DLS Album Review

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Ben Sharpa charts specific enclaves as South African underground hip-hop figurehead-cum-electronic music practitioner. As producer, he is responsible for the dark, anti-pop leanings which marred both the Groundworx and Audio Visual’s output in conflicting shades of detuned classical music samples, clipped audio sketches, and down-tempo drum patterns. As emcee, he is always willing to speak truth to authority – a truth draped in layers of densely-populated metaphorical undertones, referencing anything/anyone from Asanda Baninzi to the late Hueman. He possesses the wit of an elder, chosen to go forth on behalf of all human beings to gather  nuggets of wisdom from creatures of yonder; in his own words, he has seen “players pray with priests/ pimps in shiny, polished suits/ politicians, poor  people, pack rats and prostitutes/“.

When, in 2010, I asked about the follow-up to his “B. Sharpa” album released  two  years earlier on Pioneer Unit, he paused for a brief moment, recollected  his thoughts, and then replied “what do you mean, the new material is right there, it’s the B. Sharpa. You need some time to digest that”, stretching every vowel of the latter part of his response, perhaps to highlight the importance of the digestive process one needed to undergo. Later that year, in the midst of a series of dates on a European tour, he managed to get work done with a dizzying selection of artists, from Puerto Rican rapper Siete Nuevo, to regular Robert Glasper collaborator Chris Dave; he caught wreck with the Foreign Beggars in England, and toured with bass music producer Milanese. Meanwhile, Dplanet (one half of the duo Pure Solid) was working out a model aimed at a “dance-type crowd, for festival appearances.” This improvised, chant-infused blueprint would ensure that people get entertained without necessarily having to be bombarded with Sharpa’s dense lyrics.

Says Dplanet: “The whole theme is to take people on a physical journey through music. Sharpa’s narrating the whole thing – messages of consciousness, positive living, and all these ideas which borrow from the ”B.Sharpa” album, but [translates them] in a way that people can comprehend more easily.” Spo0ky (the other half of Pure Solid) is responsible for the visual elements, and  constructs imagery (stills and video) to capture both Dplanet’s beats and Ben  Sharpa’s soundsystem-style lyrics/chants.

Fourth Density Light Show” (4DLS for short), the new offering from Ben  Sharpa and Pure Solid, is “a collision of uplifting conscious hip hop, live  electro-dub beats and bespoke multimedia visuals.” At least that is according to the press release.

A considered listen reveals a well-executed set of ideas and principles, unorthodox and non-conformist in nature – more a reflection of Ben Sharpa and Dplanet’s shared love for left-of-centre audio experiments. It is not enough to just hear what is being said; the  secret lies in experiencing it: Dplanet playing the role of sound architect as  well as modern-day soundsystem revolutionary (with sirens to match); Ben  Sharpa hollering martial arts-like phrases in the lead-up to his lyrical  sermon, echoes of each “whoo” and “hah” trailing behind in lock-step with the  beat ; and Spo0ky revitalising the senses with alluring and impeccably-constructed graphic interpretations of the words and the sounds, effectively creating ‘music for the  eyes’.

Essentially, Ben Sharpa went on a shopping spree for free thought; in the midst of it all, he thought himself out of a bad reality, consequently shedding all that hindered him, the artist, to fully acknowledge and embrace his calling. Over the course of fourteen dub-infused melodic riddims, the listener gets schooled in the Sharpaganda philosophy – the ‘proper propaganda’ – and its inner machinations. Sharpa and Pure Solid’s offering injects energy into a morose, meme-obsessed musical consumer’s conscience, straying from conventional sonic territory in favour of a more affecting end-product that challenges the boundaries of how dub and rap are allowed to co-exist.

(This post originally appears on Mahala)

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