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Mustafa - When Smoke Rises Music Album Reviews

Mustafa - When Smoke Rises Music Album Reviews
On his debut solo album, the Toronto artist formerly known as Mustafa the Poet confronts grief and dispossession over understated production with folk-music overtones.

When Smoke Rises is Mustafa Ahmed’s first full-length album as a solo artist, but it’s just the latest volume in his growing library of dispatches from Toronto's Regent Park neighborhood. Ahmed, a founding member of rap collective Halal Gang, used to be known as Mustafa the Poet, having gained recognition for his earnest spoken-word verse at just 12 years old. These days, he is tight with Drake and FKA twigs; he’s narrated a Valentino ad and written songs for Usher and Camila Cabello. But the topics that marked his poetry as a young teen—violence, death, grief—have remained constant in his artistic output, and they stay central on When Smoke Rises, named in honor of Smoke Dawg, a fellow Halal Gang member who was murdered in 2018.

With subject matter like a still-recent death, the journey from poetry to pop music can be treacherous; the medium necessarily requires Ahmed to polish his stories until they’re glossy enough for radio play and A&R meetings. Thankfully, he has a knack for it. When Smoke Rises deftly translates Ahmed’s poetry to melody without blunting the truth of the narratives at its core. The music is delicate: Ahmed’s singing voice is bassy and warm, and soft acoustic instruments adorn the understated production. The nylon-stringed guitars and piano of beatmaker Frank Dukes’ celestial lo-fi lend a sense of eternality. Elsewhere, submarine synths from Jamie xx and fellow folk futurist James Blake evoke the gnawing immediacy of loss. The vacillation between the two moods is a worthy imitation of the seesaw of grief between abstract and all too real.

Where Smoke Dawg’s death is a source of steady hurt, the gentrification of Regent Park is the insult added to the injury. On opener “Stay Alive,” Ahmed sings to a friend, “All of these traps and all of these street signs/None of them will be yours or mine.” The song’s video, which depicts Ahmed and his friends in front of Regent Park housing projects, highlights the nest of surveillance cameras above them, underscoring their lack of ownership over their home. The theme reappears in the Sampha-assisted “Capo,” where Ahmed sings, “This place isn’t ours anymore.” Dispossession is a conspirator with violence; both threaten his friends’ well-being, freedom, and very survival. In response, Ahmed promises to remember: “I’ll be your empire,” he sings, and disseminates his friends’ memories to the airwaves to live a thousand lives.

Many of Ahmed’s most heartfelt verses are directed to his community. On opener “Stay Alive,” he sings to the soldier with a “bottle of lean and a gun in [his] jeans,” assuring him, “I care about you, fam.” For most of When Smoke Rises, Ahmed assumes a standpoint of absolute devotion. On “What About Heaven,” he trembles at the question, “What if you’re not forgiven?,” and on “Separate,” he cries, “I’m too young to feel this pain.” But even when giving voice to these more private, vulnerable feelings, the album’s folk aesthetic gives his words the aura of fable.

Ahmed seems to bristle at his own image as the poet in a crew of rappers: On an Instagram Live last December, he said, “I’ve never in my life claimed to be anti-violent.” He resents the halo that comes with being a young Black man celebrated by polite society—the attention is grating at best, and at worst threatens to uphold the same prejudices that visit misery upon his community. When Smoke Rises does share many of the aesthetic hallmarks of a modern rap album, with samples and Drake-ish voicemail interludes. But the choice to build it around folk music’s tropes is an innovative way of avoiding the “conscious” stereotype, notorious in hip-hop for a moralizing impulse that tends to hollow out its messages. (In an interview with Pitchfork, Ahmed said pointedly, “All the backpack rap culture, I was never a fan of that.”) When Smoke Rises reasserts the sincerity that brought Ahmed stardom: He needs little more than his voice to captivate.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Mustafa - When Smoke Rises Music Album Reviews Mustafa - When Smoke Rises Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Friday, June 04, 2021 Rating: 5

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