Naked, by Benjamin Zephaniah, is an enjoyable and interesting collection of eleven tracks, consisting of a variety of vocal approaches and musical leanings. From an artist which has been exploring the relationship between performance poetry and the written word with contemporary music for a lot longer than the easily hateable Mike Skinner of The Streets, this is the ideal album to pick up if you're into your hip-hop, drum n base or garage, but also have a strong appreciation of lyricism and the conveying of opinions and messages.
Things begin with 'Uptown Downtown' in which Benjamin sings captivating verses and a very catchy chorus. The production is smooth, focused on light and mid tempo drum patterns which are later accompanied by atmospheric strings.
'Naked' is more of a spoken word affair, with the poet talking for seven minutes over a looped beat pattern which alongside synthesisers, provides an impressive soundscape that gels extremely well with the lyrical content. 'I wanna kill uneducated ignorance' is just one of many statement like lines.
'Superstar'begins with computerised sounds which burst into a hard and energetic affair which could pass as chilled drum n bass. The lyrics narrate the voice of a superstar and explores the view point.
'Touch' is built with great guitars and a gentle mixture of bongo type drums and strings. Reminiscent of 'Mind Sex' by Dead Prez in its message, the words air a desire of mental connection over the physical.
'Rong Radio Station' is a powerful commentary which touches upon a wide range of issues. Comprised of many spot on points, the narrative voice begins by talking about what happened to him as he tuned in to a not so good frequency. 'I've been reciting commercials to my girlfriend' is an early observation, which is followed by lines which get further away from the radio concept to comment on globalisation, donating to charity and perceptions of terrorism. After a minute of the track, the tempo undergoes a dramatic boost, as layers of impressive drum patterns and computer generated sounds kick in.
'Our Fathers' has more of a garage or 2 step vibe to it in comparison to the drum n base feeling of earlier tracks. Over a mixture of heavy drum slaps, piano, wind instruments and lots lots more, Benjamin loosely rhymes his way through verses which talk of people looking and searching for many things.
'Slow Motion' is economical on the lyrics side of things, although the few words that there are hit a message home powerfully, focusing on drawn out death or a situation of need, it explores the mentality of people towards it. The song clocks in at seven minutes, with the few lyrics and chorus stretched across array of inspiring rhythms and sounds.
'Responsible' features layered female vocals in the chorus, which work well sandwiched within three moody verses that talk to the listener, telling them they need to get 'in touch wid yu senses' and that 'Yu better check yu history and let yu knowledge grow'.
'Home Sick' is of a stripped down approach to the production, which is similar to a slowed down version of 'Jugganaught' by Tommy Evans. Deep brass instrument, some high pitched saxophone and strings yet again create a laid back and easy listening few minutes.
'Genetics' hears Benjamin coming as close to full out rapping as he does on the album. Through sharp and short lines, he puts forth a character study. His opinion of which is evident through his delivery. 'You see devils in your cornflakes' and 'There's coffee in your rain' seem to take subtle digs at a particular life style of those that have 'base lines out of tune'.
'Things We Say' contains uplifting and positive lines of poetry which suit the music incredibly. 'Put your ear to the ground and listen to the sound of your ancestors singing in the fields' and 'Put your shoulder to the wheel and push forward ever, Backward never, backward never, oh no' are two of many stand out lines.
The album artwork is taken from graffiti artist Banky's website, and latest pocket book 'Cut It Out' and suits the white sheets of lyrics smartly.
On a first listening, for an audience unacquainted with the voice of the artist- a mixture of Caribbean and Birmingham accents, some of the lyrical deliveries may take some getting used to, but it's something which grows on you and which gets more entertaining as time goes on. In the end, the listener sceptical or wary of the voice, is likely to love it.