Connect with us

Album Reviews

Wheel It Studios Volume 4: So Blessed



Wheel It Studios All-Stars
Wheel It Studios All-Stars - Photo from Beny Esguerra's FaceBook page

Listening to this fourth iteration of the music produced by the Beny Esguerra and a team of musicians including Paul ‘Savilion’ De Francesco [of New Tradition Music] who created Wheel It Studios, that shone a light on a whole generation of young men and women [named below] who have grown – in the broadest use of the term – out of the Jane-Finch neighborhood [much like the Last Poets did when they recorded their seminal works Rap and Hip-Hop vernacular] one is struck by how sophisticated the music of these artists has become.

Equally, one is also struck by the fact that the music that these young artists have created has lost none of its raw, salty edginess as it paints vivid pictures of what it is like to live with the kind of depravity that is a direct result of poor political decisions and just plain disregard for [the] burgeoning immigrant diasporas that continue to actually thrive despite continuous inhuman socio-economic repression. Volume 4: So Blessed is the latest edition of their dark, but ultimately also, edifying music.

Wheel It Studios Volume 4: So Blessed
Wheel It Studios Volume 4: So Blessed

Their Hip-Hop vernacular is not without precedent. Until we know better, much is owed to the legendary Oscar Brown Jr. who, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, laid down a marker for Rap – a street word for “talking [with a view to] telling it like it is”, although the great James Baldwin co-opted the word when he engaged in a conversation with the anthropologist Margaret Mead, which became the book A Rap on Race.

But it was really the incomparable group – The Last Poets [The name is taken from a poem by the South African revolutionary poet, Keorapetse Kgositsile] – who arose from the late-1960s African American Civil Rights Movement’s Black Nationalism. Several iterations of the Poets have included Abiodun Oyewole, Gylan Kain and David Nelson. The version of the group led by Jalaluddin Mansur Nurrudin, Umar Bin Hasan with Oyewole have had the greatest impact on popular culture. The Last Poets [with others from Gil Scott-Heron to Common] have been one of the earliest influences on Hip-Hop music.

The reason for a humble, short history lesson is to drive home the fact that the music on Volume 4: So Blessed seems to spring directly from the most authentic representations of what Rap and Hip-Hop mean to [the struggle for] social justice. It is not simply a question of rhythms triggered by so-called beat-making, but by what stories the lyric tells and the underlying emotions that have driven these artists to speak up in this manner. In short this is ‘heart-music’ of a raw, unfiltered kind, stripped away from the kind of romanticism that music of the commercially driven, radio-friendly music made in this vernacular.

This is not to say that the music on Volume 4: So Blessed is not radio friendly at all, because it is – superbly produced; even sleek. However, what does set it apart from what is played on [even the most Hip-Hop-friendly] radio programmes is that this music is raw, and unpretentious, and spares no effort to confront pain and despair, hope and edification – all of which it does with a great deal of nobility.

These poets who have crafted the Rap lyrics have focused on the raw emotions that they have had to struggle with, living as they do, on the knife-edge of socio-economic repression. The instrumentalists for their part, have dug deep into their tonal and colour palettes and expressed their virtuosity with evocations akin to bareback riding through the neighborhood, with squashed blue notes and swinging brass sections, combined with supremely skilled turntable-ism and rhythmic beats all of which combine to give wing to the [poets’] lyrics. Taken as a whole, this album comprises songs – yes, songs! – that showcase a group of musicians who remain fascinated with perceiving sound in new ways.

There is something genuinely fresh and forward-looking to the gestural and colouristic vocabulary not only of the poetry, but also  the accompanying musicians’ harmonic conceptions and beat-making. Vocalists – and they have all been named in the listing below – ensure that vocalastics are insightful, lyrics have been phrased compassionately; all this with a view to providing – in the most authentic terms – lived experience that is both unvarnished and relatable, coherent and eloquent.

As a result – quite remarkably, as a matter of fact – the fervour of So Blessed and struggles of Spiritual Compass nestle cheek-by-jowl with the jarring leaps and plunges of Bleeding Sidewalk, the heartache of Temptation and the tranquility of Go to Bed. Individual components are routinely marvelous, but together Beny Esguerra, Savilion and the rest of the crew of Wheel It Studios – featuring stellar artists from the New Music Tradition’s Mobile Studio Program – produce something more than the sum of its parts, making Volume 4: So Blessed one of the most captivating and artistic Hip-Hop albums to have emerged recently.

Deo gratis

Tracks – 1: So Blessed; 2: Bleeding Sidewalk; 3: Temptation; 4: Younger Self; 5: Once Upon a Time; 6: Sun Down; 7: Heal Together; 8: Sittin’ Pretty; 9: Opportunity; 10: Spiritual Compass; 11: New Lover; 12: Just Vibin’; 13: Go to Bed

Musicians – NoFilter: voice [1, 2, 4, 7, 10] and back-up vocals; POTD: voice [1, 4, 7, 9, 12]; Chocolate Coco Baby: voice [1, 4, 8]; Rez Made: voice [1, 4, 7, 12] and back-up vocals; Tracey Kayy: voice [1, 3] and back-up vocals, beat-making and production; Sisha: voice [1, 13] and back-up vocals; Tdot Wav: voice [1, 4, 7, 12] and beat-making; Baya Baby: voice [1]; Esco: voice [1]; Txnic: voice [1, 6]; Elissa Reid: voice [5]; Aléja: voice [1, 11] and back-up vocals; Heavy Steve: voice [10] and back-up vocals; Paul ‘Savilion’ De Francesco: voice [7] and back-up vocals, beat-making, production and engineering; Beny Esguerra: voice [1, 4, 7], beat-making, violin, flute, guitar, turntables, percussion, production and engineering, vocals and back-up vocals; Selah You Did That?: beat-making; Nick Cassidy: beat-making; Lo Low: beat-making; Marion Posella: guitar and production; Stef Haynes: saxophone; Luis Orbegoso: trombones; Jonathan ‘Alacran’ Amador: bass; Dj Akiin: turntables; J-Rebel: back-up vocals; Mikeila Esguerra-Carranza: back-up vocals.

Released – 2023
Label – New Tradition Music [NTM 004]
Runtime – 41:17

YouTube Video – So Blessed – Wheel It Studios Vol 4

Based in Canada, Raul is a poet, musician and accomplished critic whose profound analysis is reinforced by his deep understanding of music, technically as well as historically.

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


* indicates required

Recommended Posts