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Shafiq En' A-Free-Ka 10"

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Album Review

Connected in the '80s and '90s to Afrika Bambaataa's Zulu Nation and Ice-T's Rhyme Syndicate, and in the 2000s one-third of Sa-Ra, Shafiq Husayn releases his first solo album following an excellent vinyl-only beat suite EP for Poo-Bah. Issued just a little over three months after Sa-Ra's Nuclear Evolution, Shafiq En' A-Free-Ka is a sonically sprawling album in which the balance between spirituality/ancient Egyptian roots and Hollywood perversions — the Sa-Ra lyrical dichotomy, more or less — swings all the way to the former. (The album cover's resemblance to that of Eddie Kendricks' People...Hold On, with Husayn sitting proudly with a spear directed skyward, doesn't seem like mere coincidence.) Although this is largely the work of the multi-instrumentalist, producer, vocalist, and occasional MC, a dozen featured collaborations give the album the feel of an informal and relaxed studio session, not unlike a Sa-Ra album. And there is plenty of the expected: advanced mutations of hip-hop, soul, and jazz, with synthesizers emitting funked-up chunks as often as space vapor and grimace-inducing beats that resemble early-'70s Sly & the Family Stone in some kind of star-bound spin cycle. During the album's back half, however, Husayn throws in quite a bit of the unexpected. He touches upon droning Krautrock, harmony-rich dream pop, tropical quiet storm, and dubby psychedelia, and the finale is gorgeous and defiant, with thrumming bass frequencies and singing strings dancing together as a chorus repeats "Devil man's tryin' to hold ya/Break away, rebel soldier." A stimulating, complex, yet loose extension of his stellar contributions to Erykah Badu's New Amerykah, Pt. 1, Shafiq En' A-Free-Ka eclipses Nuclear Evolution, if only slightly, and that's saying a whole lot.

Shafiq En' A-Free-Ka 10", Shafiq Husayn
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