A remarkable series of sonic vignettes in orbit around an emotional core...

A genre-bending innovator, Naeem Juwan ushers in a wave of interwoven complex emotions with his debut album ‘Startisha’. Six years since his last EP release from his previous project, ‘SpankRock’, this album occupies a new lens of philosophical interludes while excavating the caverns of personal history in a daring intensity we cannot turn away from. 

There is a freedom in the manner in which he moves on this album. He swiftly shifts in a manic delve between somber to fury in an unapologetic decadence that sets the stage for this new project. The nine tracks toss us into the inner eschews of continued genre-mashing intersections that he has built his own notoriety over. But here, the featured artists really move this album into a new space with a confounding pulse that ping pongs between R&B, rap, house and elevated tempos.

‘Woo Woo Woo’ is cocky and an in your face cut that bends over the Baltimore house beat that features his long standing collaborators Micah James and Amanda Blank. The rapping, the background tethered drum beats with layered echoed vocals compile into something that couldn’t land less than a heart racing feeling of freedom and power. 

The shining track is ‘Stoneharbor’, with Juwan’s subdued yet graceful vocals that are warmly dedicated to his boyfriend. The compiled composition is upbeat, retro and contagious. Co-written by Francis and the Lights, this track finds a point of balance within the gospel like vocals, nuanced trippy electronic horns to a full bodied piano that seizes us to a complete stop.

The album’s title track ‘Startisha’ vulnerably unveils a complete shift to a more raw and dynamic message and we are listening. Part ballad, part declaration, we can hear the winded heaviness and the emotionality within Juwan’s tonality. We are introduced to a new side of him, a storyteller, a dreamer and one that reflects about a childhood neighbor. There is both beauty and delicacy in the dreamscapes of this track, as the fluid water bouncing beats and slow ambient drone transport us into his inner memoryscapes. What he shares with us in between the radical, the loud and the subversive is a glimpse into a more philosophical and tender artist. 

Although this album lacks a certain grounded cohesion, it is rewarding to see him floating and flying for a minute, exploring different avenues of his voice, his history and his sound. He boldly ushers in a new wave of truth and complexity that foreshadows what else he has left to say. 

8/10 

Words: Rae Niwa 

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