Ebbing and flowing with a magnetism which admittedly shines and dims across its compelling canvas, Elengi the new album from Congolese-Finnish rapper Gracias, is an encounter which demands attention. Released via Cocoa Music, which the artist part-owns, the album is a potent offering of vocal and lyrical persuasion but it is the varied and unpredictable provocative sounds around them which push tracks and release to a more inventive and exciting plateau.
Born in Congo and moving to Finland aged four to escape the building war in his home country, the Helsinki based rapper, real name Deogracias Masomi, originally emerged under the name Luminate and released an unofficial debut mix-tape called Listenin Comprehension in 2007. After a couple of years away from recording, he returned as Gracias, releasing a self-titled EP in 2011 which with its singles, loudly awakened attention and critical acclaim subsequently leading to awards. Debut album Globe recorded with producer JTT (Juuso Talsi) followed a year later again to similarly strong reactions and now it is the turn of Elengi and its lyrically personal and intimate songs to press for a wider spotlight upon the imaginative artist.
Elengi grips from the off, opener Repent casting a weave of dark atmospheric sounds and vocal hauntings into which Gracias unveils his provocative narrative. It is a bewitching entrance turning to a persistent persuasion across the track, the rapping and melodic croons from the artist as magnetic as the slightly disturbing and thoroughly compelling musical brew embracing him. It is a masterful start soon reinforced by the following Levels (Stream Fast, Die Young). The second song again brings an evocative air to bear on ears, this time with a crystalline coaxing to which a more intimidating breath wraps vocals. A rhythmic adventure with a slight tribal essence soon lights up the encounter whilst vocally Gracias evens out his imposing presence with another fine shuffle of his inventive and melodic delivery. Sultry and constantly with an edge of danger, the track is a mighty contagious offering opening up even stronger appetite for the release.
The unhinged entrance of Paint Me A Picture, its opening distress perfect for any Asian horror, is bait to greedily devour. It relaxes into a no less perturbing climate of warped voices within a cold intrusive atmosphere under which Gracias paints an intimate portrait of artist and a moment of his life. With another intrigue ridden rhythmic adventure teasing inside the chilling incitement, the track increases the weight and unique creativity of Elengi, something which is turned on its head by the melodic and more formulaic presence of Slow It Down. To be fair for someone with a more intensive knowledge of hip-hop and rap, the song probably calls out with a more distinct personality than felt but after the invention of its predecessors, the song is an underwhelming and expectation feeding proposition, though certainly accomplished and satisfying.
The elegant Eastern melodies of Gloomake brings thoughts a more imagination teasing offering even if vocally the song lacks the spark lit in the earlier forages of ears and mind. As in many of the songs it does offer a whisper of Tech Nine in its enterprise and willingness to weave original designs, if not in energy and dramatic virulence. Its relative success is matched by the cold embrace of Sada Yakko which features YSI. It is a track which at times borders on alienation with its twists and concentrated repetitive glide yet this is tempered by a great deranged breath to its stark coaxing resulting in another enthralling encounter.
The busy and skittish cloud behind the vocals of OD Cumulus is another which has thoughts initially undecided. At times it also threatens to disappoint but in further turns of its creative maze hits the sweet spot, nagging and teasing out another wave of hunger towards the undefined but riveting ingenuity at play. With guest Noah Kin adding tempting tones to the thick electro kissed baiting, the song grows in potency over each play just like the darker rhythmic and vocal stroll of Open, though the following captivation never manages to touch the levels of the previous song and those making up the impressive start of the album. In many ways the second half of Elengi is its weakest, Jubilee also with YSI for example, almost trying too hard to create a dark frame of intimacy and experience ending in a loss of the ability to make a lingering impression. You do have to admire and praise the want of Gracias to explore his feelings and personal exploits in a unique and individual way to the crowd though, this need making the album even in its less successful moments still an enthralling presence.
To buck the trend of the second side of the album, Even Out steps in with its sultry and creatively agitated dance of feet provoking rhythms, fanfares of dark sounds, and melodic mystique. It is a tantalising treat which demands to be taken notice of and eagerly consumed; a lofty triumph making the most aggressively contagious entrance for newcomers to the world of Gracias.
The final trio of songs also make a mix of persuasive strength. Burgundy Red, featuring Femme En Fourrure, is overall a mesmeric lure if with a few success defusing elements whilst Muhiva suggests more than it delivers with its understated rhythmic and quick footed African seeded enterprise never allowed the clarity and freedom to ignite the senses. Assisted by Brandon on the song, Gracias still adds an oppressive haunting to the sounds around him which engross as much as they frustrate. The album is completed by Lost n Found, one of only a few songs which come with no surprises and thus hold the least potent tempting, though the additional vocals of A. Miettinen are seductively enchanting.
Elengi has issues, though probably many are just to do with personal taste and want from hip-hop and rap driven propositions, but it is a riveting and many times a truly thrilling treat, especially in its opening stretch of songs. Whether it breaks Gracias into a wider European and world spotlight we will see but it is easy to be confident he will make that break through at some point if the impressive elements of the album press into even bolder evolutions.
Elengi is available via Cocoa Music now.
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