“Humble pie don’t satisfy our taste – Levels. We grew from taxi route to short left in a jumbo jet, that’s first class to a higher self – Levels. Chase waterfalls and stream songs, connect Brenda, Steve Jobs to King Forbes – Levels,” one of the stand-out quotes from South African rap legend Tumi Molekane’s introduction to AKA’s Levels album. A body of work that took two years to complete was obligated to feature an introduction this noteworthy. Tumi delivered a flawless synopsis.
Levels starts with a dark, synth and brass-drenched “Sim Dope”. In this song, AKA portrays the hunger for success with three case studies; himself, his parents and Sim Dope (a guy who lives a life of supreme opulence that everyone wants to know). This theme is carried on into “Run Jozi”, where he teams up with Cashtime Life’s K.O who absolutely “annihilates” his verse with a vast selection of quotables. He raps, “What’s goin’ on with these amateurs over the internet posting some messages?/ Next thing you know your career is over, ntwana over some characters/ It’s the juxtaposition of choosing stupidity over intelligence/ Ntombazan’ ushishiliza ngendunu phants’ and you’re hoping for happiness” AKA goes on to rap:“The summer is ours I’m hungry for power – Gaddafi, Gaddafi/ You turn on the tube and all that you see is Versace, Versace/ You go to my school, they can’t tell you sh*t ‘bout Chris Hani, Chris Hani.” This TweezyDaDreema-produced club banger and the verses match each other perfectly.
The album then changes moods and swings into something more up-beat and house-inspired. House group MiCasa’s J-something and Ghanaian rap superstar Sarkodie lend vocals on “Sunshine”, a song with sultry piano chords (MasterAFlat fingers maybe?) the ladies will love. The Muzart’s Tazzy-produced “Congratulate” took the country by storm with its Harrison Crump sample. What makes this song special though are AKA’s lyrics which are triumphant, honest, and fun, forcing you to sing along. A classic song that will last for decades.
“All Eyes on Me” takes us to the club. Nigeria’s Burna Boy gives the chorus a dancehall feel while a Brenda Fassie sample resonates in the background. AKA outshines his fellow rap counterparts JR and Da LES and leaves us yearning for another verse from him on this one.
On “Daddy Issues”, he tells a story of a typical good-looking, party animal, and opulent lifestyle-living girl. AKA flexes his vocals a lot more on this song and what stood out for me is the breakdown in arrangement after three minutes; the story changes to one of AKA giving this girl advice on how to change her ways. Some may not understand this song but those who do will like it. “Let Me Show You”is placed strategically between “Daddy Issues” and “Kontrol”. The production is laid-back like the former yet sonically paired with the latter, thanks to AKA’s production outfit, Supervision and Kontrol. This track is sincere and pays homage to the role-players in the making of this album and AKA‘s career. An all-round feel good track.
“Kontrol”is a balance of all the sounds the album has to offer; the Jerah – Mma We house sample, the heavy synths, smooth MasterAflat piano chords, bass guitar, hi hat-dominated drums, AKA vocals and harmonies. Da LES joined in on this and both rappers delivered great verses.
“Pressure” features Motif’s Reason lacing his verse on a retro-futuristic style beat. It’s understandable if this song throws you off because when these two get on a track, we usually expect a grimy hardcore hip hop beat like #BTCU, Peso remix, Benylin remix just to mention a few.
“Jealousy” is the track that started it all. Many were asking questions of genre shifts or experimenting but it sounds much more than that. It introduced AKA‘s new sound, a risky move from a successful Altar Ego. Looking at the work that went into Levels, it may have paid off. AKA has grown lyrically; he is in a different realm of thinking but still remains hungry. Some songs contain a pinch of bravado but an impressive amount of self-belief echoes throughout the album.
Levels is light years ahead of Altar Ego. It indicates growth. This album forces you to choose only one of two sides; either you really love it or you just don’t. My only plea is that we get the promised deluxe version soon. 11 tracks is not enough. Overall a solid album
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