Instrumental hip-hop has taken a bit of a battering in the last month, led by Phillip Mylnar’s controversial article in SF Weekly suggesting that it should be banned forever. But you don’t need me to tell that it’s a genre in rude health, especially when you’ve got people like Tensei at the vanguard.
Hip-hop’s greatest strength has been its ability to assimilate other genres and flip them to create something new and exciting. That’s what Tensei have set out to achieve on their ambitious debut EP, One. Almost every track reaches out in a different direction but whether it’s afrobeat, reggae, trip-hop or jazz, it always comes back to good old hip-hop beats that set your head nodding.
Tensei is Japanese for ‘Heaven Star’ and it’s the celestial spheres that members Midas Well and Simple X have their eyes firmly fixed on. The general vibe is slightly spaced out, with tracks that slowly weave their spell on you rather than smack you straight between the eyes. The highlight is “Let Em In,” a blissed-out joint that will bring you sunshine on a rainy day. Tensei are big on using live instrumentation and I’m not sure who the cat they’ve got on guitar is, but the licks he lays down on this gem and “Smash Mouth” take the whole project to another level--“Smash Mouth” being One’s valedictory number, a closer that sees Tensei swagger off into the sunset in a dub/reggae stylee.
But the real beauty of One, are not just its musical qualities but the way it utilizes the EP format. It’s seven tracks from an act doing to their best to push themselves and seeing what works. Most of it does, some of it doesn’t. But as a statement of intent, and a way to spend half an hour tripping out to some new sounds, One is a resounding success.
- Will Georgie