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“We Cut Keys 2” Review: Blinky Bill Returns With a Sonorous And Genre-Bending New Album

“We Cut Keys 2” Review: Blinky Bill Returns With a Sonorous And Genre-Bending New Album

We Cut Keys 2 - Blinky Bill - Afrocritik

A 16-track album, We Cut Keys 2 is sonically alluring, with songs whose beats are ensconced in Blinky Bill’s blueprint identity. It depicts a triumphant return by one of the founders of Kenya’s Alternative music.

By Frank Njugi

Between the late 2000s and early 2010s, the Kenyan art and music collective, Just A Band, established itself as the primary delight for Kenyan millennials as it concerned music. Comprising of the musician and deejay, Blinky “Bill” Selanga, graphic designer, Jim Chuchu, filmmaker, Mbithi Masya, and animator, Dan Muli, the band became notable for its unconventional musical style which blended elements of Soul, Pop, Electronica, House, Funk, Disco and Hip-Hop. Two of their albums, 2008’s Scratch to Reveal, and 2009’s Hey, are mentioned in the canon of modern-day Kenyan albums. Just A Band is also recognised for creating Kenya’s first ever viral music video in 2010 — a pastiche of Blaxploitation American films released as the official video for their single “Ha-He” from the Hey album.

In April 2016, Just A Band members announced that they were taking time away from the group to work on individual projects. During this hiatus, which would last for six years, Blinky Bill seemed to be the most active, releasing an EP We Cut Keys While You Wait in 2016, and a solo debut album, Everyone’s Just Winging It and Other Fly Tales in 2018, to critical acclaim. His latest release, We Cut Keys 2 is one that grabs listeners’ attention and seizes the imagination. It is an album that presents itself as a representation of genre-bending art.

A 16-track album, We Cut Keys 2 is sonically alluring, with songs whose beats are ensconced in Blinky Bill’s blueprint identity. It depicts a triumphant return by one of the founders of Kenya’s Alternative music.

The album’s intro track, “Black on the Keyboard”, features Nairobi-based legendary UK Grime emcee, Mikel Ameen. With a gritty beat that utilises a fast-paced baseline to create infectious energy, the song exhibits a vivid lyrical delivery by Mikel, which unsurprisingly mirrors that of UK Grime. 

We Cut Keys 2 - Blinky Bill - Afrocritik
We Cut Keys 2 album art

The follow-up tracks, “Mtaona Nikipaa” and “Dracula”, are melodic ballads which layer exploration of personal aspirations in playful beats. “Mtaona Nikipaa” describes an unwavering self-believe while “Dracula” allegorically explores a certain success every human aspires for, with one particular lyric reiterating this; “We live around the block/ But we are not from around the block.

“Remedy” is an exploration of an ineffable love. The romance song features U.S-born Kenyan producer, Emawk, whose gentle synths compliments well Blinky Bill’s deft vocals. Blink Bill delivers poignant lyrics, describing feelings for an unnamed subject, and his immense hankering for the said person.

“Get That Paper”, similar to “Mtaona Nikipaa” and “Dracula”, is a song whose lyrics are an expository sequence — one about the importance of working hard to achieve what one deserves in life. It stands out due to a genius sampling of a high-energy sermon by renowned Kenyan televangelist Pius Muiru.

“Ajigo Township Funk”, its follow-up, is heavily experimental, slow-flowing yet funky while still exhibiting some indeterminacy. With a heavy bass and a dance tempo that appears to be raised. Hissy cymbals can also be heard, which results in a surprisingly eclectic listening experience.

In “Bon Voyage”, Bill features the vocally gifted Shaka alongside Accra-based producer, Rvdical the Kid. Apart from its immersive groove, the track’s most inimitable aspect is the unique artistic chemistry witnessed between both artistes as they effortlessly transition between verses. 

“Constant K”, which features Ghanaian-English singer and rapper, Fuse ODG,  is a song that mirrors Afrobeat’s complex driving drum beat rhythm. Full of romance lyrics, “Constant K” is electrifying, maintaining a continuous burst of energy during its 2 minutes and 22 seconds runtime. It is a song that tempts one to get up and dance.

Blinky Bill - Afrocritik

“Gangster Des Îles (Not If Or Maybe)” features Kenyan Afro-Fusion and Afro-House singer, Idd Aziz. In the track, we witness a peripatetic lyrical delivery from Blinky Bill, his raspy voice low and warm but oddly still inviting, with which he sings of the cynicistic nature that humans are prone to have.

“Kiberit”, the follow-up to “Gangster Des Îles (Not If Or Maybe)”, has a sing-along rap delivery of Sheng lyrics similar to that of Gengetone, with the upbeat nature of its beat similar to that of Odi Pop. This beat mirrors that of normal bass-culture genres, which are usually energetic and dance-ready. It features Shrap artiste Jovie Jovv alongside Jamaican music entrepreneur Shauna Fung Yee.

“Boss” wows with its Luo lyrics made to sound like un-metrical chants. The song is delivered by both Blinky Bill and the featured Julius Owino( AKA Maji Maji) and Melkizido. It fuses Benga and Ohangla, incorporating African horn drums in its instrumentation.

“Compare”, the next song features American rapper and singer, Goldlink. With a distinct acoustic instrumentation, it impresses with how Goldlink mimics Blinky Bill’s eccentric singing style. There is a successful interplay between Goldlink’s vocal tone and the song’s erratic tempo.

“Gong Gong” sees Blinky Bill team up with Muthoni Drummer Queen. The song has an exciting rhythm and groove, mainly brought about by Muthoni’s surefire lyrical delivery which results in its melody being compellingly catchy.  Blinky and Muthoni sing about having a good time while striving to survive through life’s challenges.

Blinky-Bill-by-Maxime-Debollivier-759x506 - Afrocritik
Blinky Bill

“Fanikishe”, featuring Lisa Oduor-Noah is the one song in the album that might result in a listener having a stuck song syndrome because of its repetitive hook. The song’s Swahili title ‘Fanikishe’ is repeated constantly over an immersive beat with an energetic rhythm, which creates a mood and tone that would definitely make it a potential soundtrack to cinematic projects.

The penultimate song “Jam Now, Simmer Down”, is a bonus track featuring London-based artiste and DJ Ossie. One cannot help but take note of its memorable chorus lines because of their soulful delivery. Blinky Bill sings on occasion throughout the song, “Pray that we all make it./ Sending love to the in-fated. Body ready to jam down and simmer down/”.

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The album ends fittingly with “Voice Of Kenya”, an instrumental song that features New York-based Kenyan Jazz Trumpeter Owuor Arunga whose mastery of the brass instrument is vividly displayed, alongside Blinky Bill’s embracement of music primarily derived from sounds from woodwind instruments.

In a recent interview with Okay Africa, Blinky Bill speaks of how East Africa might be the next frontier for African music. Few people can boast of the type of songs Blinky Bill does due to his experimental nature. With We Cut Keys 2, he proves himself a top-notch artiste, one daring enough to be even more subversive to the generic in music, something that other Kenyan and East African artistes might be called upon to embrace if they are to be successful in making the region the “next frontier” for African music.

Lyricism – 1.6

Tracklisting – 1.6

Sound Engineering –1.8

Vocalisation – 1.7

Listening Experience – 1.8

Rating – 8.5/10 

Frank Njugi is a Kenyan writer, culture journalist and critic who has written on the Kenyan and East African culture scene for platforms such as Debunk Media, Sinema Focus, Wakilisha Africa, The Moveee, Africa in Dialogue, Afrocritik and many others. He tweets as @franknjugi.

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