The city of Munich currently celebrates its 850th birthday. Sepalot’s history may not be quite that deep, yet the DJ/producer, who since 1997 has put together five albums with his Blumentopf crew, covers many bases from ’80s funk to ’00s electronica on “Red Handed.” Despite its advanced age, the Bavarian capital is a vibrant city and Sepalot’s latest is a worthy representative of its cosmopolitan flair. He is but one of several established European hip-hop DJ’s/producers to branch out and venture into club and pop territory, but few have yet reached that enthusiastically back into the past in these post-boom bap/breakbeat days while at the same time maintaining a cutting edge.
One listen to “Jump” featuring newcomer OliverDaySoul confirms that both artists know their way in and out of the Prince catalog. They simply replace the lead guitar with a TR-303, make the drums a bit more choppy and percussive, et voilÃ a sweet summer jam that should have definitely some success with its invitation to “shake it ladies, show what your mama gave ya.” The following “Summerset” instrumental pays hommage to roughly the same era, with a slight bent towards early disco with its slowly swinging rhythm and metallic sound. The opening “The Intro” reflects the contemporary abstract-but-funky sounds popularized in hip-hop by Detroit’s J Dilla and Wajeed. Keys that vary between fuzzy, quirky and clinking adorn this smooth mid-tempo ride, with signaling sounds drawing attention to the hook and the song’s featured rapper, Frank Nitty, who, as we remember, represents Motor City as well: “I was raised in the streets of Detroit / then I went to see the world, now I’m back to report.” Track two sees Sepalot teaming up with Blu (of “Below the Heavens” fame). With hard-hitting drums and scarce melodic support, “Surrender” is a rather hostile environment, but the rapper and the beat manage to dodge each other’s blows, resulting in an attractive audio sparring. The biggest rap feature follows immediately after, with Saigon helming the club banger “Did it Again.” Saigon proves once again that he is indeed an excellent MC – sadly still without an album.
Frank Nitty makes three more appearances, teaming up with his partner from Frank N Dank in the final round, the fairly fresh weed anthem “Blow.” The Dilla collaborators feel right at home in Sepalot’s forward-thinking soundscapes. Yet not quite unexpectedly, the music is what matters on those songs. The single “She Likes Me” might pass unnoticed were it not for the exquisite sounding rhythm section and the flourishes of ’90s Prince in the hook. Sepalot aims for the same intriguing balance between hard and smooth on the downtempo “From the Get Go,” a balance that is achieved by very carefully tuned singular sounds that mesh well into each other. The dancefloor has become extremely refined since the early ’90s, and “Red Handed” reflects that finesse.
Moving on to the non-rap portion of the disc, Sepalot is rejoined by singer Esther Adam on the trip-hopish “Liquid Embrace,” following up their full-length collaboration “Eskapaden.” Featuring the UK’s Shuanise, “Smile” is an understated but funked out old school swing tune that is over too soon. The pace is picked up on the similarly swing-influenced “Go Get It” with Ladi6. Your rap needs have to take the backseat again as the New Zealand singer/MC sticks to singing – admittedly having nothing to hide in that department. The multi-talented Miss Platnum, a Romania-born Berlin resident, also decides to dump her dancehall inclinations in favor of straight singing on the beautiful futuristic blues of “How Can I Say.” Finally, OliverDaySoul (who just released his “Kilowatt” debut) returns on “Lights (Down Low),” a quiet storm candidate with one eye on the future reminiscent of Amp Fiddler.
As an artist, Sepalot has been around, having performed at places as far from Munich as Moscow, Cairo, Johannesburg, Sydney, Beirut, and Bethlehem. “Red Handed” may not reflect these travels in the sense that it incorporates the most far-fetched influences, but it fits the bill of contemporary electronic world music. It falls only partially into the rap/hip-hop category, instead it is a producer album whose creator happens to come from a hip-hop background. With only one of the album’s (usually very interesting) instrumentals passing the 3-minute minute mark, it looks like he lacks the courage to try his hands at longer instrumentals, or maybe he’s saving those for later. Whatever may be the case, Sepalot clearly doesn’t content himself with providing his four Blumentopf brethren with beats and is on his way to make a name for himself outside of his home country