I have big reservations about using the word ‘artist’ when talking about musicians. Music is art, no question, but if you make music, at the end of the day you’re a musician, no matter how skilled or progressive you may be. But Jesse Boykins and MeLo-X truly fit that word. Boykins, in particular, has displayed an admirable vision and desire to experiment ever since his debut The Beauty Created, while MeLo-X is a fellow traveller who is equally hard to categorize. Just like his new partner, he sings, raps, produces and has attracted the attention of the right sort of people all around the world.
But the only titles that matter here and now are ‘Zulu’ and ‘Guru’. They reflect the guiding spirits behind the album’s philosophy: Zulu symbolises a warrior spirit and the conquering new lands and territories; Guru, the gaining of knowledge through experience. Needless to say, the pair have put it slightly more poetically themselves: “Never bound by the shackles of genre, we travel and shift through musical landscapes…conquering new land as we travel the world winning wars through romance.”
It’s a bold statement, as fearless as Zulu Guru itself. This is the kind of music that genuinely pushes the boundaries of genre and mashes it up to create something new. Boykins has said that Zulu Guru ”doesn’t have a sound, it has a feel” and he’s spot on.
A brief check of both artist’s resumes will give you an idea of what to expect – an experimental mix of futuristic soul, r&b, hip-hop with lush vocals and a romantic tip. But Zulu Guru sounds everything and nothing like that. Perhaps the best reference point is “I’m New Here”, which alludes to Jamie XX’s remix of the late great Gil Scott’s Heron final album We’re New Here. Just like that project, Zulu Guru draws on the same breadth of fresh influences and genres to stunning effect. That’s the Zulu side of the equation.
The guru side comes out in the album’s lyrics, which are deeply intimate. This album’s all about love and both men lay out their triumphs, despair and mistakes in romance, at turns vulnerable and celebratory. It’s brave – but that’s what you’ll learn to expect from these two Zulus. This is a brave, heart-on-sleeve attempt to create something special. If you love soul, hip-hop or music, period, you should follow this pair, they’re on the way to the stars.
– Will Georgi