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Blitz the Ambassador: The Warm Up EP

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Over the past few months, NYC-based Ghanaian rapper Blitz the Ambassador has released three excellent new singles and a music video, and this week he put The Warm Up EP out for free download on Jakarta Records. All this is just a prelude to Blitz’s third studio album, Afropolitan Dreams, which is coming out later this year. Let’s just say that this once? You might want to believe the hype.

We first heard “Dikembe,” a tribute to Dikembe Mutumbo of the DRC, “one of the NBA’s greatest shot-blockers.” We enjoyed the music video, which was filmed on the streets of Rabat, Morocco, and really enjoyed the sustained guitar samples and lightning flow of Blitz’s rhymes. Next came “African in New York,” which is rich with cultural and musical references, starting with the introductory sample from Coming To America, the 1988 Eddie Murphy feature about an African prince coming to New York undercover to find a bride. The song is likely born of Blitz’s own experience and engagement with New York City as a Ghanaian musician trying to make a name for himself here, but he shifts the focus off himself to pay tribute to all his fellow African immigrants in New York: “When it comes to fashion/We’re fly as can be/Africans runnin’ the runway/New York Fashion Week/But it ain’t all flashy, some of us are illegal/Either working off the books or by the looks of other people.” The chorus melodically references Sting’s “Englishman in New York” and samples Jay Z, while sinuous guitars roll over the old-school hip-hop beat. When the beat drops out at the end of “African In New York” revealing that the guitar and bass are playing in a totally different rhythmic feel, it makes us wonder about the origin of these sounds: Are they a sample, or were they played specifically for this track?

Guitars play a central role on this EP, from the layers of afrobeat-style rhythm and tenor guitar parts on the opener, “The Warm Up,” to the sample of “Chant to Mother Nature” from the ‘70s Nigerian rock band BLO and the Jimi Hendrix-inspired wah-wah solo on the closer “Royalty.” Original guitar work mixes seamlessly with samples of vintage ‘70s afro-funk, each one familiar to our ears but most slipping in just below the radar of recognition.

There are so many more samples and references on The Warm Up EP that could be sorted out and parsed, but for now we want give serious respect to the three producers: Blitz, his frequent collaborator Optiks, and newcomer Tismé. The latter is a Parisian beat-maker who gives us the slow, loping groove for “Bisa,” perhaps the most thoughtful and melancholic track on the EP. It opens with a quote from Gil Scott-Heron’s post-Watergate critique of American political and social life, “We Beg Your Pardon (Pardon Our Analysis)” and features verses from Nneka, the alternative Nigerian/German singer, and UK rapper Ty. Blitz opens up with revolutionary-themed lines contextualizing global unrest with a sort of karmic, ‘what-goes-around-comes-around’ philosophy—“Violence that you sow is the violence that you reap,” and calling out Monsanto and Shell Oil for crimes against humanity.

The other tunes are “Respect Mine,” built on some familiar Mandingo swing tune, which features Brazilian rapper Emicida, 20Syl from the French turntable crew C2C, and Y’akoto. There is also, “Internationally Known,” which features Sarkodie, one of the hottest rappers in Ghana. Both lyricists deliver deft verses over a heavy beat and a sweet original horn-line, recorded here in Brooklyn at Galaxy Smith Studios. This tune seems like an effort to connect with the Ghanaian market, but it remains to be seen if Blitz’s politically themed, musically poly-stylistic cosmopolitan world-view will connect with the local Ghanaian market the way it has in New York’s underground World scene. It is more likely that his reputation will continue to grow in global metropolises like New York and London. Best line? “You’re whole style is Twitter/You might as well follow.”

Look out for Afropolitan Dreams later this year.

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  • Minna Zhou

    Fantastic review. I think it’s great that you brought up that point about how Blitz’s style might or might not really take root back in Ghana (at least imminently). Some Ghanaian friends of mine–who know Blitz as Bazawule and who teach and study at the University of Legon–mentioned how much they appreciate Blitz’s particular brand of music and his incorporation of Ghanaian highlife into it. But they were also talking about him in the context of how certain really talented musicians, including Ebo Taylor, just don’t get the kind of appreciation or hype in Ghana as they do internationally. Which I suppose isn’t singular to Ghana, but it’s always interesting to think about the reception of certain artists in and outside of their home countries and what that says about the particular musical pulse(s) of those places.