It’s not fair that other rappers have to survive in a world with Blitz The Ambassador. I don’t think I’ve heard a hip/hop artist more respectable than Blitz. His vocals are magic, whether it’s his smooth operator flow, his pleasant timbre, or more than everything, his lyrics. A mindful, courageous artist that uses a live band instead of overly-computerized beats or samples- Blitz embarks on his next quest with Afropolitan Dreams. The album is somewhat conceptual, as all his records have been. Here he captures life on the road, especially an international one, a musician traveling from his home country to his second home in New York City, and then everywhere in between. The album is funky, heady, and astute- a must have.
“The Arrival” is a great choice to start off the record. The intro has sounds of the NYC subway system, strings, booming bass, and plunking keys, setting a dark tone. Then Blitz comes in over the splintering horns with “It’s never as easy as it seems/ living Afropolitan dreams.” When the whole band comes in it’s pure fire, with Blitz offering his first thoughts on current music: “Kids in Africa/ forgetting Little Wayne/ can never feel their pain.” Later he has one of the album’s best lines: “They say you can force a horse to water/ but you can’t force it to drink/ Well, you can force knowledge on people/ but you can’t force them to think.”
Blitz rushes the stage again with “Dollar and a Dream”, a funkier track with the guitars soaring in and out. The song’s about becoming a rapper in the big city, “Just a kid from Africa/ here to tell my story.” Later he raps about going everywhere with his CDs in his backpack, trying to sling a few before Rolling Stone gave him “four stars outta five.”
“Call Waiting” is a sad track where Blitz first calls his son from the road. “You been practicin’ on your drumset?/ You broke your sticks?/ Don’t be upset.” In the second verse he speaks with his mom, where he’s a little more vulnerable than when he stays positive for his son. “Of course I’m taking time out to eat/ I get a little sleep.”
Throughout all of this, the band matches West African rhythms and vibes with New York funk and zinging hip-hop, like The Roots with more worldliness. Hand percussion, horns, and tight drum n’ bass support Blitz incredibly well, and because it’s all live, the album has a cohesive sound. Blitz is either rapping in his mid-tempo swagger or triple-timing it to live up to his namesake.
“Some things change/ and some might not,” Blitz swears on “Make You No Forget”, and he may be speaking to his own sound, with the same energy that made Native Son unforgettable, but each of his albums has taken on particular qualities that make them stand alone.
This album bridges West African rock, funk, soul, and hip/hop, and therefore is deliciously digestible. If Blitz is the bow and his raps the arrow, and your eardrums are the targets, then Afropolitan Dreams is the bullseye.
Samuel Bazawule was born and raised in Accra, Ghana. In his youth he was introduced to the Highlife and Afrobeat sounds popularized in West Africa, but it wasn’t until his older brother played It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back by Public Enemy that his musical passion was ignited. Bazawule became enamored with Western hip-hop lyricists of the late-’80s and ’90s (Rakim, KRS-One, Q-Tip, Posdnuos etc.) and their ability to use music as an outlet for socio-political commentary. He hadn’t heard young black people express themselves in this way before, and he was hooked.
Currently, Bazawule is a resident of New York City and is better known by his stage name Blitz the Ambassador. His third studio album, Afropolitan Dreams, is his most focused release to date. Featuring a balance of West African instrumentation and rhythms with a firm rooting in Westernized hip-hop, Blitz is making a name for himself in an era of hip-hop music that chides “consciousness” in lyricism (or at least seldom attributes praise to artists who do incorporate it).
Hip-hop has a habit of creating archetypes and finding new artists to continually fill these designated spaces. Kendrick Lamar follows in the footsteps of Ice Cube, Danny Brown follows in the footsteps of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Tyler The Creator follows in the footsteps of the RZA, etc. (and this isn’t unique to hip-hop; who is Springsteen without Dylan, who is Dylan without Guthrie?). But where is the archetype of the international rapper? In fact, there really is no prominent archetype for the international rapper in Western hip-hop. Multi-platinum phenomenon Drake calls Canada his home, but you won’t soon hear him dropping bars over an Yves Lambert piece.
The way that Blitz the Ambassador tackles this lack of precedence is what truly makes him an astonishing artist, a true ground breaker. He forms his own lane by embracing his Western hip-hop and Ghanian duality. By enlisting talents like Nneka, Angelique Kidjo and Seun Kuti, Afrocentrism reigns supreme on Afropolitan Dreams. He laments on the track “Dollar and a Dream” that world music critics would chastise his earlier music for not being African enough – this album should quiet those detractors. He is joined on every track by his seven-piece band, Embassy Ensemble, who not only demonstrate a mastery of Afrobeat that would make Tony Allen proud, but they are also capable of bursting into hip-hop staples. The interlude “Traffic Jam,” for example, sports the infectious bassline from Bob James’ “Nautilus,” which has been sampled innumerate times, most notably in the song “Daytona 500” from Ghostface Killah’s Ironman album. “Internationally Known,” a fast-paced head-nodder of a track, features fun vocal sampling from Rob Base’s hit “It Take’s Two,” and features some of the braggadocio hip-hop is known for. All the while he uses this unique soundscape to spout his views on a variety of subjects, including the growth of Africa as a collective world power, the nature of communicating with family overseas, and the state of his home country of Ghana.
So-called “fusion” artists, especially those that are hip-hop related, often bounce between two styles and seldom find themselves much at ease. Blitz is fully at home in his style, and his music is a perfect bridge between cultures. He straddles the line between world music and hip-hop without letting it fog his mission as an emcee with something to say. He’s an original character in both realms and Afropolitan Dreams shows Blitz the Ambassador reaching a satisfying maturity.
With the release of his third studio album, Afropolitan Dreams, Blitz the Ambassador formally launches brand ‘Afropolitan’ in a symbolic way. Like any great trademark, brand Afropolitan is built to embody identity, untold immigrant narratives, catalogues of global artistic, social and political experiences, ranges of emotions, new paradigms in the way of Africanism. Brand Afropolitan is multinational. Sophisticated. Pluralistic. Urban. Village. Nomadic. Voyage. Challenge. Risk. Sacrifice. Disappointment. Realization. Triumph. The future.
The twelve tracks of Afropolitan Dreams set the stage for a physical journey that is taken through each narrated story on the album. By now, it’s clear that Blitz is following the tradition of the griot, making honorable his responsibility of being a historian, storyteller, singer, poet and musician. He successfully delivers a record that listeners can play from beginning to end, if not on repeat, fully engrossed in the overarching story being told. More than an auditory experience, Blitz makes you grab your passport and come along on a world tour with him from New York City to the other side of the globe. From the first track you’re riding on subway trains and hopping on and off of jets, getting glimpses of heartfelt phone calls to family members inside of departure and arrival airport terminals. You relate to voicemails about bounced rent checks and calls from collection agencies. You get to be a fly on the wall of a whirlwind, multi-city, multi-country romance. He lets you understand the struggle and sacrifice that comes along with following a dream being fulfilled on the grand stage of life, and the satisfaction that comes with having the audacity to go for the success.
You might be jetlagged by the last track, but the hour long journey of listening will have been worth it. Featured co-navigators rounding out this tour of Afropolitan Dreams include award winning artists representing Benin, Nigeria, Germany, Kenya, Mali, Morocco, Brazil, the US and of course, Ghana. But, make no mistake about it, this is really a gold standard hip hop album. In between poignant narratives and cultural soundscapes are party anthems laced with proof of Blitz’s sharpened lyrical capacity. You’re going to lean back and bob your head to classic funk samples and familiar West African drum rhythms because you won’t be able to help it. And by the last track you will embrace the universalness of Afropolitan Dreams and the conviction with which it encourages the telling of Blitz the Ambassador’s story in relation to and along with your own.