Review: Asheru, 'Sleepless In Soweto'
Asheru’s Thoughtful Rhymes Shine on Sleepless in Soweto
Perhaps the best way to describe Gabriel Been – aka Asheru – is a true ‘Renaissance Man.’ In other words, Asheru is a well-rounded individual. Sure, he’s a talented MC, but additionally Asheru is an educator, activist, and a Peabody Award recipient. In other words, don’t merely label Asheru as a rapper – he transcends such. On the exceptional Sleepless in Soweto, Asheru seeks to bridge both black (African American) and African culture, etc. (Pan-Africanism). Throughout the triumphant affair, Asheru works with a number of individuals talented in their own right including Grammy-nominated artists Raheem DeVaughn and Wayna Wondwossen as well as South-African rappers Hip Hop Pantsula and Teepee. Never missing the mark, Sleepless in Soweto is the treat too few have been privy to.
“Simphiwe’s Theme” initiates the effort, opening with a spoken word intro instantly introducing the listener intellectually into black culture. As the intro fades out, an incredibly funky, old school groove instantly captivates. Asheru enters, painting the beat like a champ with his thoughtful rhymes. Things grow even more soulful on the fantastic “Do U”, which features an incredible cast including Omar Hunter, Hip Hop Pantsula, and Teepee. The hook is an uplifting selling point by all means: “No one can do you like you / that’s why you must be open / live life make no excuses / you don’t wanna miss your calling…if you don’t do what you do / there’s a hole you might just fall in…” In addition to that brilliant, unifying moment, several other lyrics stand out, one of which not even from the star: “You don’t have to be modest / I mean, you an artist / the black Michelangelo genius to be honest / the black man who don’t need a penis to be hardest.” Now that’s what you call real swag.
As promised, “Funky DC” is indeed funky, with much of the song letting the horn-laden instrumental ride out. Spitting does occur on the back half and of course it is high quality. As funky as DC was, “Clay Davis” is even better. Asheru is on autopilot, but in case there are skeptics and or haters he clarifies on the hook: “For anybody still asking if Ash can spit / Hit ‘em with the Clay Davis like sheee-it…” Who is Clay Davis you ask – a Maryland Senator from HBO series The Wire who apparently loves to emphasize the word “sh*t.” That’s not Asheru’s sole claim to fame lyrically though – “If there’s one thing you should know ‘bout me / I exercise my unlimited potential / so when I run them streets and shout BMIG / I don’t only mean over these instrumentals” – is certainly a hefty statement. On the proceeding “Make Magic”, Asheru does just that, delivering a message of encouragement and fighting through adversity: “…When the fear creeps up, man up, keep up and make magic.” Sound advice by all means.
“Life After The Show” continues to find Asheru flexin’, though certainly not shallowly like some rappers. Here, Asheru is assisted capably by Pro’verb, Kaygee, and once more Hip Hop Pantsula. “Sleepless” and “Last Days” are stronger showings, both providing a wealth of positives. “Sleepless” features a number of clever allusions throughout, while “Last Days” has Johannesburg, South Africa on its mind. Additionally, “Last Days” is incredibly prudent, epitomized by an electrifying verse from Asheru: “As we move closer to the end / many men pretend to know when Armageddon begins / Warfare and terrorism / military slaughter / Famine, disease, lack of clean drinking water / Earthquakes, hurricanes, strange weather patterns / man made disasters / Past or hereafter / all trying to capture / the coming of the rapture / but really, who’s prepared / who’s scared?” After the deep cut, “Love On The Go” smoothens things with an adult contemporary R&B vibe – lush, romantic, and mid-tempo. Asheru, Omar Hunter, and Hip Hop Pantsula don’t ‘go soft’ per se, but the tone of the rhymes certainly matches the sound of this particular cut.
“Gaunteng (Land of Gold)” brings in the always-soulful Raheem DeVaughn, who slaughters the hook: “…I spotted a rainbow, found this land of gold.” How could RD not ‘sang’ though – the groove with its rhythmic drums, repetitive piano, and anchoring bass line are right up his alley. “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” doesn’t outdo “Gaunteng”, but the brief track with a “Low Rider”-like groove continues to find Asheru on top of his game killing the beat. With the help of the beautifully, low-key vocals of Wayna Wondwossen, Asheru remains fiery on “No Matter Where You Go”, a winning penultimate cut. Closer “So Amazing” doesn’t supersede the ‘gems’, but it certainly puts a cap on a strong album. The African percussive groove is among its strong suits.
Overall, to quote country singer Billy Currington, Asheru “must be doing something right.” Sleepless in Soweto shines brightly, offering a thoughtful brand of hip-hop, something that is not always the case within the music genre today. Asheru’s intellectualist, ‘Renaissance Man’ thing – well, it’s pays off big time here. Need a hip-hop boost to jump start 2014 – Sleepless in Soweto will get it done easily for you, my friends.
“Do U”; “Clay Davis”; “Sleepless”; “Last Days”; “Gauteng (Land of Gold)”; “No Matter Where You Go”
Asheru • Sleepless in Soweto • Guerrilla Arts Ink • US Release Date: November 12, 2013