With hip-hop’s ongoing globalization, the U.S. is seeing a lot of international releases. At their best, these records can result as high quality, enlightening listens. Kardinal Offishall put Toronto on the hip-hop map with his music, making it accessible to all hip-hop listeners while concurrently representing his hometown by giving his music a Canadian twist. At their worst though, international projects can go to either extreme – they can either be so different that listeners of different cultures can’t keep up, or they can lack originality by simply copying the latest fads in the States.
ABS – made up of Shadow Zu’s Sandstorm Ja and Boobah Siddik, and Big B – is determined to make their mark in the hip-hop world. Their new album, “Sandstorm,” is a fusion of “normal” hip-hop and their African and Jamaican extractions.
ABS wears their roots on their sleeves with this release. Whether its Sandstorm Ja talking about “making it to New York with $40 in my pocket” on “Immigrant,” or the Jamaican flavor found on the dance-ready “Boum Ya,” it’s evident that the group isn’t ready to compromise their cultures for mainstream acceptance.
Even where the album has its American influences, the artists’ accents and use of foreign words remind listeners that they aren’t your everyday East Coast MCs. Dr. Dre-esque bass and piano keys are paired with titles such as “Djindoh,” and the group speaks on African politics over the gritty, Alchemist feel of “Soldiers of War.”
Perhaps most importantly, the group makes music that can be appreciated by all cultures alike. “Never Lose Hope” (featuring Ren K) inspires listeners to keep their heads up despite setbacks, the industry is criticized for its lack of creativity on “Suicida,” and the group’s members show an appreciation for life’s finer things with “Fly To Win It.”
While “Sandstorm”‘s international influence keeps it interesting, it also creates its blemishes. With thick accents delivering all of the disc’s lyrics, the tracks often require multiple listens just to understand what’s being said, and not all listeners will have that patience for artists they aren’t familiar with. At its core though, this album exposes one of the many different forms that hip-hop comes in, and provides some enlightening lyrics in the process.