Get ready for lift-off. Earthbound, the ‘Ethiopian hip-hopera’ with an Afro-futurist twist, takes us on an interplanetary journey that escapes the gravitational pull of any single genre, opting instead for a blend of hip-hop, R&B, drum ‘n’ bass, and general club-friendly madness. At its best, the album seamlessly combines the thoughtful rhymes of emcee Gabriel Teodros, the down-tempo beats of producer Burntface, and the ethereal vocals of Meklit Hadero.
At other moments, the record can sound like a piecemeal creation. The numerous abrupt shifts from ‘radio-friendly-rapper-guest-verse’ sounding rhymes to soothing, pensive vocal breaks, seem formulaic and expected. The record can almost feel like a radio programmed to switch between two different stations at one-minute intervals.
On “Mahalia Einstein,” Teodros brings us back to Earth with that uplifting, make-things-better type rap over a slow, sensual backdrop. Hadero shines on “Karman Line,” which offers a performance that is simultaneously self-assured and vulnerable. The slight quiver in her voice humanizes her and allows listeners to empathize with her. “Be With Me in the Darkness” showcases a sung-rap verse, which works perfectly with the melodic hypes of Hadero.
Earthbound is certainly an admirable effort that offers a number of shining moments. The album’s closing cut, “Speak,” again showcases the delicate mood that the group is able to evoke. Nonetheless, there is a recurring aesthetic that misses the mark–or maybe just gets tired after 35+ minutes. One is left to wonder if each these three talented would be articulated better individually.