Steamrolling horns. Chatty twin guitars. Hard-charging bass and drums. They’re the typical main ingredients of Afrobeat, the tough, political African funk subgenre concocted by the late Nigerian saxophonist-vocalist—and, more recently, Broadway-approved icon—Fela Kuti. But A Long Way to the Beginning, the latest album from Fela’s son Seun and Fela’s old band, Egypt 80, introduces something fresh to the fold: hip-hop.
Coproduced by jazz keyboardist Robert Glasper, whose most recent LP includes appearances from Common and Snoop Dogg, A Long Way features the MCs M-1 (of Dead Prez) and Blitz the Ambassador on a track each. The results are thrilling, not least because hip-hop and Afrobeat are such natural partners. On the unrelenting “IMF,” when M-1 raps, “Where the dollars at? / Where the money go? / See they talk fast / But they move slow,” the styles’ affinity becomes crystal clear.
Another album highlight is the tender, soothing closer, “Black Woman,” a ballad that takes its time, getting soulful and hypnotic and shouting out Nina Simone. It may be a long way to the beginning, but as that track—and the entirety of A Long Way—demonstrates, this Afrobeat scion isn’t far from the top.—Brad Farberman