Zekeultra - (The Power of) The Will of Man [Home Assembly Music - 2020]Zekeultra is a Delaware based rapper producer whose previous output had mostly been released on Bandcamp. Here on his debut LP for Yorkshire's very own Home Assembly Music he's flanked on production duties by Yonqi, with supporting roles for Melacrusin and Cole Kronberg. The deeply personal and introspective nature of the record is captured in the note printed on the cover: "A collection of works and mantras that I needed to hear but nobody would tell me in my time of need. So I had to say them to myself". This is a long way from the braggadocio of the likes of Danny Brown, and all the better for it.
(The Power of) The Will of Man floats through nine beautifully crafted miniatures mostly formed around warped soul, jazz and classical samples. The production has a knack of building up just enough structure to support the rhymes which are delivered in an relaxed and unhurried fashion. Opener Legs ft. Sstrawberry sets the pace with fuzzy piano loops and field recordings over a minimal stop-start trap style beat. No Sun is all submerged bass and vocal production tricks which has Zekeultra's bleak lament for a life without light appropriately pitched down ala DJ Screw and given a subtle vocoder to sound extra addled. His rhymes touch on themes of domestic drudgery, substance abuse and family obligations. The tone is for the most part resolutely melancholic but with brief shafts of light as on Let it Out ft. Elijah Bank$y which ends with a looped field recording of children playing in a pool.
It's these moments mined from the style-set of hauntology and hypnogogic music which give (The Power of) The Will of Man its signature. Every track sounds like it's leaking the fuzzy memories of soul and jazz; personalising them, blending them with contemporary concerns about aborted futures and groundhog days in the belly of a dying world. Hurts renders a Brenda Holloway sample into an yearning dirge for a better life, "Night time gets rough when the cold seeps through the window". As if to hammer home the point the track fades out to the sound of a rain storm. But there are brighter moment here and there. Okinawa builds around an upbeat soul sample of strings and bass over which Zekeultra raps about being the "captain of his ship" and "hitting home runs in Oakland". And The Midnight Ride hints at facing the demands of adulthood and responsibility, "I put my ego down just to get some bread".
Yonqi's production draws from the same well as Kenny Segal who deployed a similarly understated, hazy and affective pallet of old soul and time weathered production flourishes to his stand-out records with Billy Woods and Hemlock Ernst last year. It's a style sensitive enough for the rapper's subject matter and delivery which is often left hovering over the top in a way that sounds honest and intimate rather than contrived. Zekeultra sits within an increasingly rich seam of inventive downbeat avant-rap that includes recent records by the likes of Rory Ferreira, Quelle Chris and Slauson Malone. This is hip-hop very much tailored to our time.