Reviewed By: Kyle Duncan Kushaba
If there’s any artiste in Africa who has gained fame and kept it by being rude to his fans, it’s AKA. He is clearly living the real Hip Hop royalty life of not giving a hoot about what any one thinks of him. He has beefed with whoever wants to beef, and is not afraid to go all out on social media and blast the world. With the release of his solid debut Altar Ego three years ago, the ensuing superstar status it afforded him, and the gaudy touting of his sophomore effort; one’s expectations were understandably high for AKA’s second album.
Kicking off with Levels- a short impressive spoken word piece by emcee/poet Tumi Molekane over droning synthesizers smoothed out by subtle keys- Levels promises to be a remarkable work of art.
Unfortunately, AKA fails to live up to the lyrical standards set by Tumi. He offers nothing engaging. The subject matter is a normalcy-it revolves around him running Jozi, grinding, and the good times. However, his song-making ability is reminiscent of the likes of Kanye West, Drake, and Kendrick Lamar. He puts a great effort in his hooks and bridges; and the marriage between beats and lyrics is impeccable, making every song on the album worth a listen and even a repeat.
He is unapologetic about the level of success he has reached. Neither is he afraid to flaunt it. On Sim Dope, he spits: “They pull me out the envelopes, you should f**k with the winners/You got some buzz from your singles, but that’s just some luck for beginners” which could possibly be a subliminal shot aimed at South African rapper Cassper Nyovest with whom he has been involved in a highly publicized feud.
Sonically, Levels is homogenous. A considerable number of the songs are hip hop adulterated by dance and/or house music samples – a winning formulaic sound he launched through such successful singles as Jealousy, Kontrol and Congratulate.
He applies the same formula on the laid back summer anthem Sunshine featuring South African house music darling Micasa’s J’Something and Ghanaian rapper Sarkodie. Nigerian dancehall artist Burna Boy and South African rappers JR and Da L.E.S appear on the Brenda Fassie- sampling twerk gospel banger All Eyes on Me. This is probably my best song on the album.
Run Jozi-where AKA and K.O shamelessly lift Migo’s “Versace” flow- take the standard form of a 21st century hip hop banger with the use of 808s and heavy basslines. I feel like they should have been more original here and not jerked someone else’s lines.
While Jo’burg emcee Reason spits a stellar autobiographical 16 on Pressure – a song about how the spotlight is not all glitz and glamour and the immense pressure that comes with fame; K.O’s Run Jozi verse and Tumi’s spoken word piece on Levels are the albums zeniths lyrically. On Daddy Issues, AKA tells the story of a young female lost soul who needs to slow down as everyday is only 24 hours.
In an age where albums are released and easily accessed everyday, brevity does an album more good than bad. But at only 39 minutes and 11 tracks, Levels may seem a bit shorter than acceptable especially since four of the tracks are already highly publicised singles dating as far back as 2012.
Though far from being a lyrical masterpiece, Levels is a great body of work that will likely have South Africa (and even Africa at large) eating out of the palm of AKA’s hand for the next two years. If you don’t respect him as a rapper maybe you will respect him as a producer.