Carolyn Malachi is either extremely ambitious, or just downright restless. Either way, one could understand her discontent, given the unfortunate satire occasionally associated with mainstream success. Therefore, it is no surprise that her latest project, the tantalizing Lions, Fires & Squares EP, triumphs from its ability to blend genres and fizzle perceptions, even if it leaves listeners thirsting for more content from the 26-year-old, Washington, D.C., native. Still, Malachi has achieved a certain nirvana in music, as an artist that honors her influences, while living comfortably in her own skin.
Black musicians — especially those who fuse African rhythms with American soul — seemingly use the arts to revisit their native land. It is an unmistakable ancestral calling that binds American-born Africans to their musical heritage, and provides an underlying ethnicity to most genres of popular Western music. A song like “Dumela,” for instance, with its methodical acoustic guitar and African drums, is a “coming of age” tune, Malachi says, inspired by her first trip to South Africa in February. The five-minute track is also an empowering song about womanhood. “Take your place among the women/it is time for your lesson,” Malachi sings. But, as tempered as “Dumela” sounds, the R & B/electronic “Orion” is just as cinematic, detailing a love story between a mermaid and an astronaut that meet in the clouds. A self-described “movie in my head,” Malachi describes the track as uncommon discussion about devotion. “Textual,” featuring South African rapper HHP (Hip Hop Pantsula), is a playful club song that uses auto-tune and distorted vocals to poke fun at a text message conversation.
Ultimately, Lions, Fires & Squares builds upon the work of her previous album, the full-length Revenge of the Smart Chicks II: Ambitious Gods, released last year. Her previous album, with its reggae, hip-hop and jazz influences, was more Jill Scott than Janelle Monae. “Love on the Median,” for example, sounds directly influenced by Scott’s landmark Who Is Jill Scott?: Words And Sounds, Vol. 1, while the aforementioned “Orion” would fit on Monae’s The Archandroid. The only flaw with her new project is that there just isn’t enough of it. The first song on the 29-minute album is an introduction, while the last two tracks are remixes. Nonetheless, it is impossible to box Malachi into one particular genre, and she proves that it’s easy to succeed without stunts, all while avoiding ravenous lions, scorching fires, and prohibitive squares.