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Son Raw can never know
Jamaica and France are on opposite sides of hip-hop’s story of transnational expansion. The former is the genre’s ancestral homeland, the primordial land of sound systems and dubplates that forged Kool Herc into a DJ that could translate these ideas and sounds for American ears, sparking the biggest genre of the late 20th and early 21st century.
French artists meanwhile, latched onto New York rap’s love of language and jazz in the late 80s and early 90s, connecting the anger and self-expression of American emcees to outer-city rage in the French banlieus. Yet different as these locals’ relationships to hip-hop may be, it all makes sense in Five Steez and J-Zen’s Pantone EP, with both artists approach hip hop from a position of reverence, without being afraid to twist it to fit their unique styles.
The duo’s shared emphasis on detailed lyricism and sampled beats positions both artists squarely to the left of their contemporaries, and serves as a guiding light throughout the project, with the results sounding like a contemporary answer to classic Hieroglyphics or Tribe. ‘What’s Your Vibe’s jazz inflected boom bap features a chorus that wouldn’t be out of place playing on a classic Stretch and Bob show for instance, but Five Steez’ rhymes strike a contemporary tone and speak to his Kingston environment.
Considering reggae and dancehall usually use up all the oxygen when discussing Jamaican music, Five Steez is free to develop his own style, blending classic lyricism to a powerful voice, while setting himself apart from his contemporaries (i.e: no patois).
If Five Steez is an iconoclast, J-Zen sounds right at home among the pantheon of France’s best, sharing La Cliqua’s jazziness, IAM’s melancholy, and DJ Mehdi’s attention to detail, but tracks like ‘No Debate’ and ‘We can Never Know’ also look further afield, delivering a sound clearly informed by the contemporary beat tape scene. It all adds up to a release that’s heavy on smoked out vibes, connecting rap’s outternational bonafides to the sound’s roots.