When South African MC Okmalumkoolkat makes a hook out of the phrase “Gotta check out my blog, I got so much shit to show you,” it’s hard to tell if he’s making fun of internet-obsessed social media addicts or if he’s shamelessly self-promoting the flashy blogs he maintains and contributes to. The man’s scatterbrained online presence and choppy, playful flow pack enough personality to earn him what is arguably the starring role on the sophomore full-length from South London production trio LV, Sebenza. Eight of the album’s 14 tracks feature Zwane’s breathless and lively rhymes, which find the rapper mostly chattering about fashion labels, girls and the internet with a nimble charm and an ear for how to nestle his rapid-fire words and decorative monosyllables among LV’s punchy beats.
The rest of the tracks on Sebenza feature the vocals of fellow South African emcees Ruffest (aka Andile “Max” Stemele of kwaito group Sello Mangwana) and Spoek Mathambo. LV’s productions were crafted to buoy vocal performances rather than stand alone as instrumental, although some of them could. The whirring and clicking production on “Work” makes very little room for Mathambo’s lines, opting to showcase the hooting wooziness of LV’s beat over the MC’s drawling vocals. But most of the tracks would seem lacking without Mathambo, Ruffest and Okmalumkoolkat. The U.K. funk-leaning production on album closer “Ultando Lwaka” recalls the squelchy synths put to use by artists like Funkineven and even the laid-back composure of Dam-Funk, but it has long stretches that cradle Ruffest’s verses with purposeful simplicity, preventing the music from overpowering or clashing with the speaker.
Even though every track on Sebenza is tailored to accommodate vocalists, LV’s production stands out. Whether it’s the eye-popping stomp of “Sebenza” or the glittering synth chords in “Thatha Lo” and “Limb,” LV’s beats remain entertaining and airtight. The trio’s work blends a medley of styles, from the kwaito bounce of tracks like “Animal Prints” to the growling, dark, low-end halftime clomp of dubstep on “Hustla” and “Spitting Cobra” to the bubbling U.K. funk on tracks like “Sebenza.” LV’s skill and savvy when it comes to crafting spotlight-gobbling beats presents the biggest drawback for the album in that it’s disappointing that there’s not one instrumental number on Sebenza.
Instead, we are left with an effort that marries uptempo, sputtering raps with crackling percussion and sticky rhythms. While artists like TNGHT, Brenmar and Baauer are making moves to unite clattering dance rhythms with hip-hop’s leaning boom-bap, LV has taken a less-traveled path that challenges the vocalists to keep up with the production. The hip-hop influences on Sebenza are hard to locate, mostly because the dance-inspired elements of the mix overpower the hip-hop stomp, like the lurching beat on “Nothing Like Us.” Instead of molding house-inspired influences around a flat-footed hip-hop beat, LV insists that the vocalists assimilate into its effervescent production.