Producers on The Rise, Volume 2: Elizee, Bubele Booi, Zarro and 808x.

More often than not, producers are the architects behind great music. They create and mould the atmosphere and world our ears inhabit within any piece of music. It’s a great balancing act one has to do when it comes to producing music with vocals; one has to find a way of establishing an indelible sonic footprint whilst providing a canvas for the performing artist to soar and explore their creative vision. In this blog series, I’ll be spotlighting young music producers I’ve found on the net who I feel are making great strides and/or have the potential to be our next great architects in music. This is the second edition, you can read the first article here.

ELIZEE

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Elizee

Basic Info: Our first producer, Elizee, is of Congolese descent currently based within Johannesburg, South Africa. Born Elyzee Mubikay, Elizee is a full-time artist, music producer and sound engineer within the OXI Entertainment stable and whose sound comfortably plays within the realms of contemporary hip-hop and R&B. His official production discography is currently within its third year based on what’s available online and it includes three of his own titles, 2018’s Louis Season, 2019’s collaborative Lavish Mentality with Malachi and the recently released BlkShp. Some of his key collaborators include Malachi, Elohim, Elaine, Flame, The Big Hash and Kale Dinero.

Style: Elizee’s musical output is situated within the realms of the rhythmic-crossover spectrum, specifically contemporary hip-hop & R&B and its familial cousins. Elizee is incredibly savvy within these spaces and is proving to be one of the architects consistently pushing the progression of contemporary R&B within South Africa’s Gen-Z fraternity in its different textures. His sound is plush to its core. One of the consistent through-lines found within it is how much he appreciates exploiting a mid-tempo groove, regardless of genre. His productions rarely stray too far out of a vibey groove. What usually changes is how he exploits the pockets to match the feel of the songs and artists involved, and has managed to cover major ground sonically in doing so. His work with Flame, Pay Respect and Rendezvous, explores a trap context whilst Elaine; Say It and Changes  gives us a neo-soul perspective. He can also provide summery, latin and islandic romps; see Nonchalant, Bad For Me and Smoke, as well as atmospheric trapsoul as found in Dinero’s Soul Ties or his own BlkShp. He’s able to jump into all these sonic textures without ever truly jumping out of his plush mid-tempo territory that often encompasses jazz chords and flourishes as well as lite trap lilts. His sound never comes off as unassured and has enough malleability to accommodate artists of different genres, tone and range.

One of my favourite parts of his catalogue is when he stretches outside the family of trap and into more revisionist R&B/hip-hop hybrids, as seen with his collaborations with Malachi and The Big Hash. This R&B-output usually feels descendant of the type of R&B music Jermaine Dupri and Bryan-Michael Cox produced at the turn of the millenium leading into the mid 2000’s. References of this can be found in tracks like Malachi’s Let You Know, which adapts from the 8701 Usher era, or the funky bass sound at the core of The Big Hash’s Again which is a more mellowed out cousin to Dupri’s late 90’s sound that you can hear in tracks like Destiny’s Child With Me Pt. 1, TLC’s Kick Your Game or Usher’s You Make Me Wanna. One of the most fascinating reconstructs for me happens within The Big Hash’s Amnesia, updating the sound with its use of lite trap references and the restructuring of Big Hash’s vocal intro as part of the composition in a way that is increasingly catchier upon repeat. His work with Elaine pulls his skills into more neo-soul territories but you can still find a similar approach in productions like Say It. It’s interesting to see the different ways he infuses these two generations together and what other ways he can innovate those sounds in the search of something new. I would be really interested to see what would happen if Elizee were pushed into to a really frenetic or histrionic context. His instincts show a great capability of producing more dramatic moments to supplement the rich and mellowed territory he already covers so well. Elizee is undoubtedly a rising guard within the urban contemporary, and what’s exciting is that we’re still at the tip of what he can do.

Further Recommendations: Elohim’s On God, The Big Hash’s Ringtone, Lavish Mentality’s Lavish, and Elaine’s I Just Wanna Know.

BUBELE BOOI

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Bubele Booi

Basic Info: Bubele Booi is a 26-year-old South African music producer, currently based in New York. Booi is a UCT graduate in music, who’s currently completing a Master Degree in Music at New York University whilst juggling a career as an active producer both solo and as part of Noble Makes Songs, a production duo consisting of David Balshaw and himself. His production discography is quite extensive dating back at least 7 years with key collaborators including Beyonce, Ami Faku, Lady Zamar, Opposite The Other and Manu Worldstar.

Style: Bubele Booi’s musical output is extremely varied and comprehensive in scope, with genres running from EDM and Electropop all the way to Afro-pop, R&B and Soul. One of the main commonalities about his catalogue, across the different genres they inhabit, is how deeply entrenched it is in pop sensibilities both contemporary and classic; Booi and Noble Makes Songs by extension are true scholars and propellers of pop music as a construct. A solid showcase of this can be found within their work with rising Swazi-crooner Manana. As a vocalist and storyteller, Manana’s tone and harmonic approaches play very well within the realms of soul and R&B and his collaborations with Noble acknowledge that, whilst sonically pushing him towards territories of crossover. Think About You is a pop-soul record that is a melting pot of influences. The song’s use of orchestral samples make it feel reminiscent but its chopped approach places it within a contemporary context a-la pop music post Lean On/Where Are U Now. It provides a trap pre-chorus breakdown further playing within 2010’s context before climaxing into an easy-listening chorus further emboldened by Manana’s timeless style of singing. The song is an evolving listening experience pulling from so many sources, that it allows the listener multiple points of entry and accessibility to something familiar whilst still feeling cohesive. A similar approach can be found again with Manana’s Distance (I’m Yours), a pop-R&B hybrid placed with an EDM/post-dub context, or on Manu Worldstar’s breakout gold-record, Nalingi. Pop accessibility is a key tenant within Booi’s current style regardless of genre or type of song, from ballad to EDM-rager and from folk to soul.

Outside of the realms of pop accessibility/crossover, a really interesting side to his catalogue emerges when you look at it through a scoring and soundtracking lens. Through his Artistic Intent collaborations with his brother Abo Booi, Booi is able to push himself into more orchestral and acoustic spaces with abandon and it would be interesting to see how that evolves when he’s given more ground to cover from a duration perspective and with more dramatic context. Moving into soundtracking, Beyonce’s Find Your Way Back gives us a direct example of his written for visual potential. Lady Zamar’s Dangerous Love broadens their scope to more pensive and conflicted spaces; placing elements of soft rock, think Sting, within the context of an African epic. Although not released within the context of a soundtrack, Dangerous Love, feels primed to be tracked within the tensions of an epic romance or hero’s journey. At just 26, Bubele Booi’s built a formidable catalogue across different spaces that’s positioning him as a venerable force within and for the next generation of music. Having just finished his Masters, it’s exciting to see what lays next for this producer because on paper it almost looks limitless.

Further Recommendations: JON VINYL’s Star Crossed, ELEVATION RHYTHM’s Wild Love, Leon John’s Pray For You and Ami Faku’s Ndikethe Wena.

Zarro

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Zarro

Basic Info: Our next producer is a 23-year-old born and raised in Pretoria, South Africa; Zarro. Born Panashe Chitumba, Zarro is currently studying a BSc in Real Estate at the University of Pretoria whilst juggling interests within real estate and catering. His production discography is in its fifth year, and in 2018 he was able to place within the top 4 at the Battle of the Beatmakers competition. Some of his key collaborators include Una Rams, Tron Pyre, Thato Saul, Just Jabba and Llucky.

Style: Zarro is an adventurous producer whose musical output is highly experimental within the sonic family of Hip-hop and Blues, but not solely. His musical output thus far has encompassed the likes of trap, choral, spoken word, kwaito and alternative R&B, to name a few. His style of music referencing is very Chicago-esque and steadily invokes a Chipmunk-Soul style, especially when you look at his Soundcloud mixtape material. Like Chipmunk-Soul he samples soul staples which have included Michael Jackson’s Lady in My Life and Angie Stone’s Wish I Didn’t Miss You respectively within Thato Saul’s Always Here and Llucky’s Who Better. The deeper you go, the more you find a steady amount of gospel and choral references sonically; direct references include Thato Saul’s Holy Holy sampling The Mississipi Mass Choir’s rendition of Lord You’re Holy whilst the choral intro, unsure of the source, sets the stage for Tron Pyre’s Ruger. Just Jabba’s Track 3 begins with a choral acapella that’s chipmunked into a sample that runs throughout the song, with the same choir offering a different chimpunked vocal for the song’s refrain. Outside of the Chimpunk-Soul sampling and referencing, you can still feel the gospel and choral influence infused within some of his work like T.O.M’s The Wait, which gains its bounce and upbeat disposition from its use of gospel-tinged keys. The most comprehensive showcase comes within his producing of Misa Narrates’ anthology of poems titled God Is In The Rosefield; a 10-minute canvas that allows him to explore his gospel-affiliated sonics without the need of blending it with moderns sounds.

Zarro is a producer with a solid understanding of the modern genres he chooses to inhabit and when given space, he often likes to play within their dramatic or boisterous edges. Straying from the realms of hip-hop, one of the songs in which you get to see that is in Tron Pyre’s Pure Heroin/Ethereal, in which he orchestrates Big Band sonics and really revels in the boldness that landscape sound allows. Pure Heroin/Ethereal really embraces the looseness of jazz. It has no solid verse structure moreso a series of refrains that found Pyre and the composition in a back and forth that continuously builds to climactic heights. Tron Pyre’s Burgundy project allows us to see more shades of Zarro’s versatility from contemporary R&B and reggae in the chart-topping Stay (with Una Rams) and Heavenly Zion respectively to more truly acoustic spaces in Moments. His work with Just Jabba allows us to see how his style fits with localized textures, as he dives into spaces like kwaito with robust energy that leans on the ominous. Zarro’s versatility in capturing the essence of a sound can’t be understated. He’s a chameleon. What’s cool about it, is that regardless of whatever genre he inhabits there’s always an element of soul seeping through. Zarro seems to be back in production after a hiatus and it will be interesting to see how his sound has matured as he propels into more spaces and tones. 

Further Recommendations: Thato Saul’s Promising, Leo’s GRL, Just Jabba’s Voicemail and Llucky’s Entrance.

808X

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808x

Basic Info: Last but not least is another music producer hailing from Pretoria, 808x. Credited as Kay Gumbo, 808x is a full-time music producer, audio engineer and one of the founding members of the artistic collective known as innannetwav. His official production discography is within its fourth year and in December 2019, he released his first solo effort titled Station 2097. Some of his key collaborators include The Big Hash, popsnotthefather, A-Reece, Ginger Trill and Flame.

Breakdown: When the Mans shut down when they heard my tings tag introduces a song, there’s an assurity that you’re in for a banger. 808x has built a rapport as one of the more consistent producers making music within hip-hop’s rising class. His range within the genre is quite extensive whilst maintaining contemporary aesthetics, whether he’s playing within popular realms of trap and bubblegum or within more obscure spaces like industrial hip-hop. From mosh-pit hellraisers to atmospheric boppers, his catalogue has mainly explores hip-hop but his work within the last year has seen mans steadily veer into increasingly bold and daring places of crossover. The Big Hash’s Young found him testing the waters with house and R&B infusions within Save Me and Circles, juggling their sensibilities whilst maintain a strong core remaining within hip-hop. popsnotthefather has proven to be an inspired muse and collaborator in pushing his sound to compelling places. Within 808x’s debut project Station 2097, he and pops have two unfiltered collaborations in Only You and Can’t Stop that barely leave a trace of traditional hip-hop optics. Only You gives us a fascinating slice of futuristic pop with funk undertones whilst Can’t Stop fully transports us fully into EDM territory in a track filled with four-on-the-floor breakdowns and sonics that amalgamate different eras of techno and house into a relentless rave listening experience. popsnothefather’s Not Now Not Ever project then finds ways to consolidate those optics back within the hip-hop space directly with PVCJunky and again with On and On and On, with these adaptations feeling even grungier in feel. 

There’s a club crossover appeal that seems to be rising healthily within his newer output; as if the songs are being designed to be playlisted for parties and DJ mixes.  There’s a relentless and rebelliousness energy he brings that is dizzyingly euphoric at its peak. Station 2097‘s posse-cut Dojo is packed with so much blaring and aggressive energy that it feels primed for grand entrances in battles as well as movie sequences. The instrumentation within his productions are becoming richer, more complex whilst maintaining a rebelliously youthful tone to it. 808x has built a solid home accounting for the sensibilities of hip-hop’s younger fraternity and  he’s using that same energy to boldly grow into more frenetic places in increasingly interesting ways. It’s not hard seeing his sonics growing to account within more visual and large-scale spaces with the momentum his continuous curiosity is breeding.

Further Recommendations: oshoku’s Meizu, popsnotthefather’s KARMAKOLLEKT, The Big Hash’s Hot Sauce and 808x’s Red Alert.

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