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Bronze Nazareth/Roc Marciano - Ekphrasis Music Album Reviews

Bronze Nazareth/Roc Marciano - Ekphrasis Music Album Reviews
The rap duo’s latest project fits neatly into the stately traditionalism currently dominating the independent scene.

There is a long history of rappers and producers treating their work like fine art, investments in pop culture set to appreciate in value. This fascination goes beyond simply describing a Basquiat painting sitting on a wall or claiming the paper you wrote your verse on belongs in the Louvre. It manifests in different ways, like New Jersey rapper Mach-Hommy selling physical albums for thousands of dollars; or rappers like A$AP Rocky curating their own art exhibits; or artists removing their discographies from major streaming services to funnel access (and profits) directly to the supplier. Fine art and rap music have been intertwined since the genre’s inception, but the modern era has seen an influx of talent claiming the title of high art the genre is continuously denied.

Michigan rapper-producer Bronze Nazareth has long seen himself within this lineage. A Wu-Tang Clan affiliate and RZA mentee, Nazareth got his start producing for RZA and other Wu members before releasing his debut solo album The Great Migration in 2006. Over the last 15 years, Nazareth formed his own group called the Wisemen, contributed beats to Samsung commercials, and worked to refine the painterly details of his raps and production. He’s seen his share of independent and mainstream success, but his latest album Ekphrasis—produced mainly by similarly art-minded rapper-producer Roc Marciano—is Nazareth’s attempt to slot himself into a world newly interested in the traditionalist East Coast sound he’s favored for nearly two decades.

Ekphrasis isn’t the first time the duo have worked together. Marciano once rapped over a Nazareth beat on 2005’s Wu-Tang Meets the Indie Culture, where then-prominent indie rappers took a crack at unused songs from the Wu archives. In the years since, Marciano has been at the forefront of the neoclassical boom-bap revival of the 2010s and has taken to producing full-lengths for other rappers, from Queens rapper Flee Lord to Syracuse’s Stove God Cooks. Marciano producing for Nazareth is a full-circle moment, and though the production on Ekphrasis is split evenly—Marciano and Nazareth each handle six of the beats—the sound remains holistic and fluid. They both favor bare-bones loops; sometimes grounded by psychedelic guitars (“The Precipice”); sometimes by a stray synth (“Brass Jehova”) or a ghostly choir (“Survivor’s Vow”). It’s par for the course without any real innovations and occasionally so uniform it becomes indistinct, but Nazareth is clearly relishing the chance to flex for a new audience.

As a rapper, Nazareth’s flows are rigid, but his words are measured and descriptive, as if they were recited from stone tablets. There are plenty of references to artists like Marcelo Gandhi and sticky images of his own in his writing (“Chandeliers dancing on my ceiling, rich as Lionel,” from “Crazy Horse”), and Ekphrasis is content to stew in this brand of wordplay for its own sake. He’s so accurate with his gun that he can “write [his] name in cursive” and just wants some “space like Bezos” while planning out his next conquests. As fun as the word games are, Nazareth’s raps are most intriguing when their stakes match the vivid melodrama of the beats. Hearing a rap veteran talk about climbing even higher over the dramatic strings of “Kettle Black” and wax poetic about early days chopping loops and remembering his late brother on “Survivor’s Vow” are thrilling bits of personal memory that paint a fuller picture of the man behind the mic. It’s the kind of selective soul-bearing Marciano dots across his projects often, and Ekphrasis would have benefitted from a slightly more personal touch.

Most rappers in Nazareth’s position—a 20-year veteran co-signed by the founder of one of the most important rap groups of all time virtually from the jump—would use an album helmed by one of the modern underground’s premier rapper-producers to project their worth from the mountaintops. But outside of a handful of explicit mentions, Nazareth prefers to let his art speak for itself. For better or worse, Ekphrasis fits neatly into the stately traditionalism currently dominating the independent scene, another chance for a legend to further refine their art.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Bronze Nazareth/Roc Marciano - Ekphrasis Music Album Reviews Bronze Nazareth/Roc Marciano - Ekphrasis Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Thursday, October 21, 2021 Rating: 5

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