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Album Review: Nneka - 'Soul is Heavy'

Spiritual & Political

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Album Review: Nneka - 'Soul is Heavy'
On Soul is Heavy, the second album by singer-rapper-songwriter Nneka Egbuna to be released in the United States, the Nigerian-German performer definitely shows her American counterparts a thing or two when it comes to recording music that carries some deep messages, but is also entertaining at the same time. As opposed to many of her contemporary Western counterparts, Nneka has a lot more to offer musically than songs about dressing fly, going clubbing, or making love. No, Soul is Heavy, which was released in the U.S. on Feb. 28, 2012, is much more spiritual and political content-wise. And impressively, she's not angry or overly preachy. Just the opposite, in fact; there's plenty of love to be found here.

Passion & Honesty

There's a lot to be impressed about on Soul is Heavy. First is Nneka's singing, which carries 12 of the album's 15 songs by itself, without the aid of guest performers, super-producers, interludes or anything else getting in the way. Nneka doesn't have as powerful voice as some other R&B/Soul singers, the passion and honesty in her vocals is as pure as a Kobe Bryant jump shot. On such songs as the optimistic "Shining Star," the Dub reggae-based "Lucifer (No Doubt)" and the hip hop-styled "Sleep," she displays her vocal versatility.
Another thing to admire about this album is its expansive approach to music. Besides the Dub reggae and hip-hop tracks, African rhythms are represented (on "Still I Rise," among other tracks), Dancehall reggae is combined with guitar rock on "Camouflage," a song about personal insecurities; and even Spanish guitar and Latin rhythms get a chance to shine, on "V.I.P." It's clear that being on a small, indie label allows Nneka to take chances both musically and lyrically that she probably wouldn't be able to get away with on a major label, since with them, creativity can sometimes take a back seat to commercial profitability.

Worth Hearing

The other thing to be admired here is the originality and uniqueness. Because of her musical intelligence and passion, Nneka's sometimes compared to Lauryn Hill (circa Ms. Hill's Miseducation period, not the lost version of herself that came afterward), and she herself has said that her late, great countryman Fela Kuti has been an influence on her. But each song on Soul is Heavy sounds not only original, but distinctive from anything anyone else is doing musically at this time around the world. Even the three songs with guest vocalists ("Sleep," featuring British rapper Ms. Dynamite, "God Knows Why," with Black Thought of Philadelphia hip-hop band The Roots, and "Still I Rise," with Nigerian artists Wura Samba & Mohammed) sound very different than anything those artists have recorded in the past.
Overall, Soul is Heavy is an excellent, thought-provoking and entertaining collection of songs. It's a little long by modern standards -- nearly an hour -- and not all 15 of the songs included are overly catchy or instantly addictive. Plus, some Western audiences might have trouble with Nneka's occasionally thick Nigerian accent. But between the earnest vocals, lyrical depth and creative production and original storytelling, this is an album definitely worth hearing.
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