Spoek Mathambo: “Mzansi Beat Code” Album Review

Written By: Ethan Griggs

My Music: ethangriggsmusic.virb.com

Just over a decade into his career, the South African artist Spoek Mathambo is making some of his most charismatic and and enlightening music. His new album Mzansi Beat Code is a powerful statement of both musicality and lyricism, but the freewheeling and non-conformist feel of the record almost makes it feel more like a mixtape. No matter how many features or other voices you may hear, though, Mathambo is clearly front and center on his first solo album since 2013. With an eclectic blend of sounds including piercing guitar solos, classic South African house, and even educational spoken word, the artist has created a convincing portrait of the hip-hop scene in Cape Town.

One of the most rewarding elements of the record, released on the Teka label, is the juggling of singing, rapping, and production by Mathambo. He has truly created something that doesn’t sound like anything else – many tracks like “The Mountain (feat. Pegasus Warning, DJ Java, DJ Spoko & Machepis)” and “Black Rose (feat. Damao, Sugarcoated Flow & Tamar)” are as soulful as they are experimental and thumping. Other moments are a little more out there, like the backing guitar and pulsing bass drum of “Volcan (feat. Ceci Bastida & Fantasma) which sounds like an outtake from Animal Collective’s most recent album.

Two of the album’s standouts also serve as its centerpiece. “Libalela (feat. Langa Mavuso)/Thapelo ea (feat. Morena Leraba)” is a nearly six minute long epic with the unforgettable refrain, “Yesterday I prayed for you”, before going into a distinctly African chant. Quite a contrast from “Ain’t nobody prayin’ for me”. Directly following is the absolutely striking “I Found U (feat. Kajama & Fantasma), featuring hands down the best hook on the album underscored by astrologic acoustic guitars and throbbing bass guitar. The stranger Mathambo’s production gets, the more rewarding it becomes. It doesn’t stray too far for long, though; the strobe-lit and dense “Sifun’imali Yethu (feat. Jumping Back Slash)” is a club banger if their ever was one.

It’s hard to say what the best part of Mzansi Beat Code is, because all of it is simply wonderful. Spoek Mathambo has yet again proven to be on of the premier producers of modern hip-hop in South African. Artists like Robyn didn’t just pick him as a producer for the hell of it.