Very little in hip-hop is as inspiring as making politics personal. Musician-humanitarians, The Lo Frequency (formerly Chen Lo and the Liberation Family), debut their first EP The Export, as a testament to their international outreach. The seven-member hip-hop ensemble showcases an amalgamation of musical influences via expert instrumentals and soulful production, accompanied by conscious and motivational vocals from rapper Chen Lo and singer Shannon Grier.
The album’s title is a reference to the band’s extensive performances and music-based social work abroad, but it also speaks to the band’s musical perspective – one that crosses both genres and cultures. The album’s introduction features only afro-drumming and chanting and sets a musical foundation for the hip-hop genre. The album rides the sweet melodic opening chords of “Think Of.” The juxtaposition of classic jazz acoustic and electric guitar here provide a fascinating listening session. Chan Lo efficiently connects to the crux of issues involving socioeconomic status, politics, racism, and relationships. Shannon Grier’s vocals elevate the listener to find a sense of inner peace. This high energy sound transforms into a more rock-heavy sound on “Look for the Light,” with a penetrating piano backdrop. “Getting Late” shows a funk influence, and offers a suggestive sultry battle of respect and hormones. The band shines on the final track on the project, “Float Away.” With its ethereal opening, soft keyboard, detailed bass ornamentation, and electric guitar additions, this is easily my favorite track. Here, the band accomplishes an effortless synergy between female vocalist, rapper, and band.
My feelings on this album are well envisioned in its cover art: in the foreground a superfluous collage of influential jazz, soul, and blues artists of the past, with the band members’ silhouettes in the background. Essentially, there are lots of great elements here, but it also feels like a lot is happening. Within the EP, there are only five fully-grown tracks, and this isn’t sufficient room to make all the musical references the band attempts. There are plenty of moments where I craved the simplicity of the few openings chords, but was overwhelmed by a vast overlay of production and vocals. I’m further confused by their decision to trim one of the best emotive moments on the album, “Moonrise,” a 35-second (can you say tease?!) psychedelic interlude the features electronic sounds paired with mellow drumming. Expanded, this track could have given the project a fuller, distinctive flow. No doubt, the instrumentation and production on this project alone make it worth a download. What The Export lacks in focus and cohesion, it makes up for in creativity, and that was enough to leave me wanting more.
- Sandra Manzanares