Supreme Supreme: This Talent Show Doesn’t Suck

Shades of Sicko Mobb and "Hard In Da Paint" via FruityLoops in Mali
By    May 26, 2015


Peter Holslin is the world’s foremost synth sax virtuoso

We live in a time when you can get a “craft” version of everything from toast to ice, and when it comes to music there are plenty of people out there willing to spend precious time and money learning how to master serious analog equipment like a modular synthesizer or a set of turntables. But we also live in a time of instant accessibility and global communications, so it only makes sense that some strains of underground electronic music and hip-hop have instead come to be defined by a certain thin, low-budget, prefab computer aesthetic. In America you can hear it in the beats of groups like Sicko Mobb, while in other parts of the world producers rely on software like FruityLoops—which is both inexpensive and intuitive to use—to create amazingly intense dance music.

Among them is Supreme Talent Show, a duo from the West African country of Mali who use samples, keyboards and FruityLoops to push beats to the limit on Danbe, a new album that’s out via Sahel Sounds. Supreme Talent Show consists of Mèlékè Thiathio and MC Waraba, and according to the label, the duo draws from the country’s vibrant hip-hop and “Balani Show” street party scenes. The 14 tracks on Danbe mix high-energy rapping and chanting with complexcomputerized rhythms and other delightful computerized ornamentations. “Paix Dron” takes off with ecstatic runs on a sampled balafon (a wooden xylophone used in the Manding griot tradition). “Soungourouni” zigzags between tom-tom polyrhythms and a meaty synth horn riff. This is a relentless, invigorating and somewhat exhausting listen, sure to get the blood pumping in dormant appendages.

The cool thing about Danbe is that while this music is undoubtedly digital, it’s still rooted in natural sound. The hypnotic, densely woven grooves of “Ambience” and “Fassy” are so fluid that they could’ve been tapped out with the fingers…or maybe even augmented with live drums? Just as notable are the duo’s largely unfiltered vocal parts. There’s plenty to be said for an MC rocketing up into pop-culture deep space with thick layers of Auto-Tune; Chicago’s Sicko Mobb and Cairo’s Sadat and Alaa Fifty all do it well. But it’s thrilling to hear Thiathio and Waraba relying on their own motor-mouth energy to drive their songs in between cameos from other rappers like Yeli Fuzzo—himself a stylish performer, who doesn’t so much as break a sweat as he delivers a verse over the heart-palpitating BPM of “Ni Son Kadi.”

Supreme Talent Show use local sounds and rhythms, but also take notes from regional dance music and American hip-hop: “Dalama Do,” one of the best songs on the album, echoes Waka Flocka Flame’s “Hard in Da Paint” with its chest-pumping chants, orchestral hits and triumphant rave-trumpet lead. Of course, these aren’t exactly high production values, and some listeners might not be able to get past that. But rap and electronic music has always been driven in part by the strengths and limitations of technology, and with Danbe, Thiathio and Waraba make clear that what’s key isn’t the equipment you have—it’s what you do with it.

We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!