- Singers teaming up with forward-thinking dance producers to make pure pop has become a trend—think of Jessie Ware and Julio Bashmore, or Katy B and Geeneus. But the idea of that taking place within the Night Slugs / Fade To Mind axis, which includes some of bass music's most exciting and experimental artists, is downright salivating. Kelela thought so, too. When she decided to become a singer, she couldn't find music that suited her musical vision, but the skewed and grimy sounds of Bok Bok and Girl Unit caught her ear and effectively changed the course of her career. The Kingdom-helmed "Bank Head" was the first taster, a rising-and-falling masterpiece that saw the singer perfectly navigate her producer's wonky groove. Now she delivers CUT 4 ME, a free mixtape jam-packed with street-cred—production credits include Jam City, Bok Bok, Nguzunguzu and Girl Unit.
Kelela's voice is distinctive, a slightly nasal coo that can reach impressive highs. She puts on a tough face for much of CUT 4 ME—"Enemy" and "Floor Show" are triumphant tell-offs. Elsewhere she channels that energy into a powerful sexuality that isn't too far from Natasha Kmeto. She's even better at being soft and sweet, where the real nuance in her voice comes out. The record's highlight is probably the two fragments of the Morri$-produced "Go All Night," with her breathy commands twisting and turning effortlessly. Then there's the gorgeous torch song "Send Me Out," where Kingdom provides a horn-led backing that sounds like a lost Prince ballad fed through a synthesizer.
As much as Kelela is the star on CUT 4 ME, it's easy for her to get lost in the shadow of her producers. They're not just giving her spare parts here. Girl Unit's beat for "Floor Show" is tantalizingly exotic, and Bok Bok's "A Lie" is crestfallen rainy-day stuff like you've never heard from him before. For the most part Kelela takes to these odd structures with ease, but there are slip-ups—the pillowy ballad "Keep It Cool" never quite latches onto the beat behind it, and her voice sounds strangely out of place on "Guns & Synths." These are the few moments where she sounds wet behind the ears, but then she's still a relatively fresh face on the scene. And whenever she puts an awkward foot forward, she's immediately redeemed by a hint of pop brilliance. It's her restraint on the closer that best sums her up: letting its woozy Jam City beat air out over six minutes, she could easily turn it into a power ballad, but instead keeps it at a simmer. It's that kind of clever decision that makes Kelela such a promising artist.
01. Guns & Synths (Produced by Bok Bok, Napolian, Tariq & Garfield)
02. Enemy (Produced by Nguzunguzu)
03. Floor Show (Produced by Girl Unit)
04. Do It Again (Produced by NA)
05. Go All Night: Let Me Roll (Produced by Morri$)
06. Bank Head (Extended) (Produced by Kingdom)
07. Cut 4 Me (Produced by Kingdom)
08. Keep It Cool (Produced by Jam City)
09. Send Me Out (Produced by Kingdom)
10. Go All Night: Let it Burn (Produced by Morri$)
11. Something Else (Produced by Nguzunguzu)
12. A Lie (Produced by Bok Bok)
13. Cherry Coffee (Produced by Jam City)