The EYRST-RENCO connection is no secret; both the label and the collective have synergistically built followings with off-balance beatsmithing, spacey soundscapes, curious rap styles and a vibe that lends to the organic. The most recent collaboration comes in the form of Maze Koroma – a vital member of the Renaissance Coalition – putting out his new EP, Osiris, through the growing label on February 26th.
Now Maze Koroma has been my radar for a few years. He first caught my attention in Summer ’13 while I was looking up fellow RENCO member Zoo? after his showing at the Lifesavas’ Spirit In Stone 10 year anniversary party. I’m not sure if it was Time Travelers or Off The Noodle that I saw first, but Zoo? and Maze had a few videos out together. Early 2014, he caught my attention again with a gritty standout performance on That Ain’t Fair alongside Mat Randol. Armed with a great voice and a penchant for clean similes and short stories, Maze has been at work over the last couple years, sharing his craft through features and choice singles while rocking shows everywhere from #TheTHESIS to Mississippi Studios.
The NEP rapper released his new project’s first single, Rebels (produced by Bryce Lang), last week. The synth-heavy, lyrical knock makes a good introduction to the EP, showing off an emotive rap style that transcends cleverness and disregards standard aesthetics.
Even before hearing it, I jumped at the chance to dig into the project early and I’ve probably listened to it a dozen times over the past week. With each listen my confusion grows, as does my interest. Before jumping into the album, I sincerely suggest clearing your pallet. This is not background music, this is learn-the-lines-and-sing-along-with-your-friends music. If you don’t believe me, check him out live Feb. 20 at the Rose Bar. You’ll trust me after that.
Maze’s style has been compared to that of the iconic Max B, and I can see that in terms of vocal delivery. His voice has a certain hypnotic quality that allows his lower register to hang on vowels, and he has a habit of not rhyming when you think he will. He’s also just remarkably good at talking grimy. But in terms of song structure, Maze is on a whole different plane, opting for spacy beats with big drums and that kick that Dilla made so popular, as well as dramatic in-song transitions. I struggle to find any single artist to compare him to, but the overall feel of the album left me thinking about ’93 Wu-Tang.
You see, Maze Koroma could care less about what you’re used to, but he’s going to give you all he’s got… and he’s bringing his friends. If you get lost along the way in the dense-but-measured wordplay, you can either leave or you can listen again. Your call, but I suggest the latter. The 6-track EP features guest raps from his RENCO fam – Zoo?, Slick Devious and Soopah Eype each drop quality verses on separate tracks – and Blossom (of EYRST) adds to my personal favorite: the silky, island-themed Curfew, which along with his solo offering, Electronic, almost feels out of place on a record full of raucous headbangers. But even the heavy knocks use graduated transitions to allow spoken word salvos and occasional vocal harmonics, as heard above in Rebels.
After a week, I’m still processing the record and every listen brings new thoughts and ideas to agree with, disagree with and challenge. Every beat has a nook or cranny that I didn’t catch the last time. More than anything, Osiris harnesses the simple power of the drum and the rapper, demanding you to challenge what you’ve been force fed and expected to like. This is an EP that gets it right, despite the lack of conventional approach, and brings the sounds of both RENCO and EYRST even closer together. The only real question left, will you listen?