Jesse Boykins III & MeLo-X — Zulu Guru [Album Review]

Undeniably soulful trip-hop, Zulu Guru delivers floating vocals over beats situated at the crossroads of R&B and new-wave electronic stylings. A collaboration between the masterfully experimental singer/songwriter Jesse Boykins III and MC/producer MeLo-X, the album tells stories of love and life through introspective lyrics and rich music.

The title reveals much of what you need to know about the album. “Zulu Guru,” partially explained through ‘Strange Recreation,’ speaks to the cultural affiliations of the artists and reflects the spiritual atmosphere present throughout the tape. JB3 describes his genre as “world soul” and Zulu Guru is just that — there’s something for everyone on the album. From Lupe-reminiscent spoken word interludes to the boom-bap sounds of ‘I’m New Here,’ (likely a nod to Gil Scott-Heron’s last album, RIP) to the smoothed out ‘Searching Her Ways,’ any fan of good music will be able to find a track that they connect with on Zulu. Although the production of the album is excellent in general, MeLo-X’s raps often have the unfortunate effect of cheapening the overall sound of the tracks where he has a strong presence. For that reason, my favorites on the album are those that feature Boykins’ vocals, but the album nonetheless deserves a close listen.

The most outstanding pieces on the album include the single ‘The Perfect Blues’ and the synthed-up ‘Strange Recreation.’ A veritable love song, ‘The Perfect Blues’ is a sweet rumination on what it feels like to make oneself vulnerable. The video reflects those sentiments beautifully, with the clap-driven beat propelling you through the song. Directed by Boykins’ long-time co-collaborator, Dr. Woo, the video is an artful imaging of classic JB3.

Similarly, ‘Strange Recreation’ moves at just the right pace, the sounds filling in the lyrical gaps perfectly. The carefully layered beat enhances the relative simplicity of the words so that you’re right there with him for the whole trip. Boykins starts:

Mind over matter

Time standing still

Bridge over water

Falling down the hill

Picture tells a story

Always on my mind

Never in a hurry

Tingling your spine

Exemplifying “schwaza,” both of these tracks take you to another place, an indescribable  space where you know you’ve encountered something excellent. Throughout the album, Jesse Boykins III and MeLo-X create ethereal sounds to carry you through the musical journey of their partnership. An independent artist not afraid to put out what he feels, Boykins is carving out a new space in R&B/Soul. Regardless of genre, he pushes the envelope of music-making in the modern age. Showcasing the talents of Oakland-native Mara Hruby and upcoming rapper MoRuf, Zulu clearly exists as the meeting point of distinct, but complementary styles and perspectives. With that, the final product is surprisingly consistent but Boykins himself undoubtedly boasts the standout performance of the project.

For more from the Chicago-bred Jesse Boykins III, peep his site and find him on Twitter. To catch up with MeLo-X, check here. Zulu Guru just dropped on Monday, go cop yours now on iTunes.