So… It’s been a minute since we went on break but now we’re back and making up for lost time. A lot of great music has dropped since our last breakdowns and on top of that, we’ve been listening to an array of different artists with older releases that we’ve been enjoying during the break. So it only felt fair to kick off our new year with a Hella Late To The Heat to recap on some of these gems we’ve uncovered, some of which would have deservedly been on our year-end list had we known of their existence. If you’re a fan of R&B and its sonic cousins, we’ve got quite a bit for you to indulge in so without further ado: Let’s dig in.
Big Time Sh’lappa – Blxckie featuring Lucasraps [produced by Franck Ribes]
If you’re an avid reader of Next Gen, you know that I’m a sucker for a well-crafted braggadocious joint. Our first pick finds two of Durban’s most dizzying rap exports delivering just that, with entertaining ease. Backed by a sparse yet attitude laden Franck Ribes production, Blxckie and Lucasraps bring some of their cockiest bars with blistering precision. Conceptually, Big Time Sh’lappa finds each rapper providing a verse of braggadocious take-downs and self-acknowledgement mixed in with accounts of their sexual encounters with women. So the themes are relatively simple, giving each performer an open canvas to explore and further amplified by the song’s lack of a chorus; and man do they come to play. Blxckie provides one of the most animated vocal performances I’ve heard in recent memory; packing his verse with swift tonal changes that are both cartoonishly entertaining and performance-enhancing. Lucasraps provides a more grounded approach that’s just as energetic and boisterous. The track is beaming with the testosterones of two young men who have already taken names and are back to conquer more and it’s so infectious. Big Time Sh’lappa is a jolt of chaotic energy. It serves up hype, attitude, menace and cocky humour to you on a platter; demanding your attention and I for one am here for repeat servings.
Heartbreak – YoursTruly featuring Ammo Moses and Jenna Noelle [produced by YoursTruly]
Our next pick is another criminal omission from last year’s end list; the toxically haunting affair that is YoursTruly’s Heartbreak. YoursTruly has a penchant for producing tempestuous mid-tempo rompers with Heartbreak standing as one of his most progressive. Ammo Moses and Jenna Noelle are on separate ends of a teetering relationship strained by Moses’ infidelity. The relationship is on its dying legs with Moses detailing how Noelle refuses to let go of any of his transgressions anymore, minor or massive, whilst Noelle is still reeling from the broken trust. Moses leads in the track with an account that is exasperated and leaning on flippant as he expresses his dissatisfaction with their current cycle of events. His vocals masterfully tread from scathing to aching with harmonies that more than amplify it with a haunting edge. The chorus finds him reveling in his toxicity and it’s so compelling to listen to. Noelle’s addition brings with it softer and jazzier tones as she questions, to both him and herself, why she’s still in the relationship. Her pain is explicitly shown in her opening line “Tell me why you lie, I just want to love you…”, as she wrestles with what to do next about the relationship. This song is a drama convincingly played out by these deft vocalists, and its chorus genuinely stands as one of my favourite R&B choruses of the last year.
Know Better – Yolophonik featuring Roho [produced by Yolophonik]
Jumping from one producer-led drama to another with the exasperated Know Better. Know Better stands as the third collaboration between Yolophonik and Roho, following Movies and Asmah. Each of their collaborations have been brief ditties that each inhabit strong emotional states from longing and infatuation to exasparation, and boy does Roho pack some bite when he’s exasperated. Know Better finds Roho introspective and giving out ultimatums following a physical altercation where the law got involved. It feels like Roho is talking to himself in third-person, though I may be wrong. The song’s sole verse finds Roho assessing his values and visions to make sure that what he’s doing is best serving him following the chorus’ more combative approach. Yolophonik provides a canvas that begins almost industrial before launching into more attitude-laden ground with an indelible compositional hook that continues to play in your head long after the songs over. There’s some amazing artistic chemistry that flows between Yolophonik and Roho, growing with each release and so if either of them know better, we’ll get some more collaborations in the future.
Head Over Heels – Kudz featuring Una Rams, Tom Saison and Tron Pyre [produced by Kudzayi Daniel Mhlanga, Fundile Dlamini, Jason Mshaba and Takakunda Mukundu)
It seems like we’re on a streak of producer-led songs here as our next pick turns our attention to Kudz’ infatuated slow jam that is Head Over Heels. So I’ve been impatiently waiting for Una Rams and Tron Pyre to collaborate again since hearing their hit-single Stay… and it seems that Kudz has heard my cries as he brought both agents of romance to the same record and added Tom Saison to the mix. A trifecta so potent that the result harkens us back to R&B’s glory days of vocal groups; seriously these guys could pull an LSG on us and I would drop coins to see it. The concept of the song is simple; these men are head over heels in love with their partners and are indulging us in their infatuation. Head Over Heels feels like it was purposefully designed for proposals, weddings and to be slow danced and is ruthless in achieving its mission. One by one, each of them pour of their hearts out with starry-eyed verses that range from earnest to cheesy before launching into the sway-inducing sing-along chorus. The production is soothing and centered around shimmering synths, a smooth bass and propulsive drums. Rams, Saison and Pyre are artful in their vocal performances, each raising the stakes as the song deepens. Rams sets the tone perfectly, Saison’s back-up harmonies bring that late 90’s yearn whilst Tron Pyre’s adlibs are as indulgent as the best of them. If you’re looking for a throwback slow jam to simmer and sway to, Head Over Heels might just keep you right here, reeling with infatuation.
Show Me How – Amarafleur
Switching gears from infatuation, our next pick is one of the steamiest songs I’ve heard in 2021 thus far in Amarafleur’s Show Me How. “Put your heart on me, hear me when I breathe…” are the leading lines to this incredibly intimate song by this South African chanteuse. Found as the closing track to her latest EP titled …And then I stopped caring, Amarafleur turns all the sensual dials to 10 in this song as she lays out her sexual desires to her partner. Over a sultry and soulful production, Amarafleur unleashes a smoky and commanding vocal that finds her in control as she seeks to fully enjoy this intimate encounter and all her partner has to offer. Her vocal performance is extremely considered as she carefully chooses which vocal colors she wants to paint with, the deeper the song, and encounter gets. This is bedroom music that is earnestly delivered and thus effectively engaging. The song is a satisfying slice on neo-soul that grows richer with every listen. You don’t believe me, let Amarafleur show you how.
who’s it gonna be? – Moonga K. featuring PHFAT [produced by Greg Abrahams]
Keeping with the steamy energy, let’s turn our attention to Moonga K. as he invites a partner into his world in who’s it gonna be? [sic]. Moonga K is one of the most expressive vocalists of the rising guard. He has this ability of effortlessly switching from cooing vocals or raps to full-throated wailing. He often takes you on this wild ride in one concentrated listen. who’s it gonna be? is one such song that finds him giving a rangy performance, this time with the spacey and intimate soundscapes of PHFAT. Conceptually, the song finds Moonga K musing over a love interest as he invites her over to his grounds for a night of passion and exploration. The longer he waits the more we hear his musing over their potential interactions through some poetic rap delivery. These tempered musing are broken through with the piercing wails of K.’s falsetto as his questions to her become more deliberate and climactic. who’s it gonna be? feels other-worldly and slightly off-kilter, and provides Moonga K. with an open enough canvas to paint daringly and he does so daringly. who’s it gonna be? is a genre-bending experience that leaves you with a sense of yearning after taking a trip to K’s ever-expanding sonic universe.
Lowkey – Xenia Manasseh [produced by Christian Mombru]
Our next pick finds us travelling all the way to Kenya with the infectious ditty that is Xenia Manasseh’s Lowkey. Manasseh is a woman that’s been burnt one too many times when it comes to love so when she develops strong feelings for a new suitor she decides to proceed with caution. Backed by a relaxed, summery and danceable production, Lowkey is a song that has great crossover potential between R&B and pop. It’s a great showcase for a lot of the strengths that Manasseh has within her arsenal; both as a vocalist and as a writer. The writing is solid in selling her bated frustration for the level of attraction she’s feeling, best showcased in the song’s bridge. Lowkey‘s bridge is quite efficient, both in the showing the depths of her smokey lower-register and her penchant for melodic runs and harmonies, before launching into an undeniably catchy and sing-along chorus. What a satisfying chorus it is for a pop-head like myself, and already feels geared for crowd interaction. Just like the song’s title, the song does keep a muted energy about it whilst letting this Kenyan chanteuse’s talents shine through.
Gimme Tha Loot – Thato Saul [produced by Beatshoven]
Closing our list is one of the most grippingly vivid storytellers currently releasing, Thato Saul. Choosing a representative song from his lofty Members Only release has proven to be difficult; with Pheli, Politics and Passions and Back to Back being current favorites that I hope to cover in the future. But for today our choice has landed on the eerily propulsive banger that is Gimme Tha Loot. Gimme Tha Loot is a song that brings us squarely into Saul’s experience as a dreaming hustler who’s restless to make it; and what a comprehensive listen it is. If Promising is a devastating sulk into his reality, Gimme Tha Loot presents a more steely counterpart that explores his resilience within that reality and all its obstacles. Thato Saul has a way of communicating his verses to you like you’re in direct conversation with him; listening as he recounts he woes. He wastes no line in vividly painting the world he lives in and the characters that inhabit it, as he jumps from one anecdote to another. Stories of broken trust, multiple near death encounters and the realities that come with doing jobs that skirt around crime; hence the song’s strong referential title. Holding it all together is one of Saul’s strongest choruses to date, that is hype-inducing, bombastic and easily catchable. Saul continues to showcase himself as a compelling all-rounded performer. When he’s firing on all cylinders, few can match Thato Saul.