A 1-Listen Review of DJ Lag’s Debut Album ‘Meeting With The King’
a fitting start to his latest arc as the global face of Gqom.
a fitting start to his latest arc as the global face of Gqom.
In 2019, DJ Lag collaborated with Beyoncé on ‘Black Is King.’ A year before, the American superstar had performed to “A Trip To New York,” a song by the South African producer and DJ. For the uninitiated, Lag was considered as having caught his big break. However, that isn’t the case. Way before Bey caught on, DJ Lag was a legend of South Africa’s Gqom scene.
His breakout song “Ice Drop” was released in a 2016 album, under a record label that’d been approaching him since he was in high school. He started as a dancer in his hometown of Clermont, Durban. A rapper cousin got him production software and he began making beats. Gqom, a dark variant of House music, was emerging around the nation’s townships, so loved for its formless expression. DJ Lag was early on the Gqom train and more than anyone he’s taken the sound international by touring regularly and releasing three EPs inspired by the swathe of electronic music he’s come into contact with over the years.
Shortly after the pandemic broke out in 2020, DJ Lag returned to his hometown of Clermont where he recorded much of Meeting With The King, his debut album. Anyone who’s heard a DJ Lag track knows the calculated chaos that it is, and I’m piqued for the different flavours he could explore.
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In Usual 1-Listen Review Fashion, All Reactions Are In Real-Time While The Music Plays. No Pauses, Rewinds, Fast-Forwards Or Skip.
Here we go guys. Have to say this is my first one-listen review and it’s a pleasure to be doing this. Man, this vibe is entrancing, I feel deep inside up in a tribal cave somewhere, listening to the drum music which tells the people’s history. Ndoni is ripping this beat, I wonder what she’s singing about. She’s repeating Ka we ma in what sounds like Zulu. Very powerful singer, the beat just builds around her. Pulsing and pulsing. Lag’s doing a madness behind the boards; there’s so many bewitching effects I’m getting right now. Bouncy stuff.
Amanda Black just entered this beat like it was a dream. Elegant voice, layering hums over Lag’s vivid production. That’s the word I’ve been grasping for since track one: vivid. You see Lag’s production, it takes you deep into a place that’s too overwhelming to describe. I’m listening with new headphones so I know what I’m saying. Amanda’s singing oscillates between powerful desire and raw pain, like she’s someone’s favourite aunt beckoning them home before it gets too dark. The music here just reminds me of a South African film I watched a while ago. Can’t remember the title now but I’ll try as we go on.
A swelling of open-air energy here. The percussions are really alive, the claps and vocal chants are thumping, my ears are bursting right now. What’s this refrain? Some back story about the collaborator on this record: Hawke produced Kanye West’s “Wolves” and after he and Lag were made this, he said something about Lag’s drums being tough, epic and minimal. If you listen to “Raptor,” you can’t help but hear it. There’s even more effects than usual but I’ll chalk that up to the presence of two producers.
Really suggestive title, wonder if the song is as devilish. Oh, these drums of Lag’s. They never fail to capture one’s attention. Lady Du’s refrain runs like a rap lyric, but she’s not here to stay, not here to be verbose with lyrical miracles. The production does most of the heavy lifting, but her voice is no doubt suited for it. Perfect collaborations so far.
The transition from the last song was perfect. Head-bopping stuff. I really like how the choruses are acting as a guide through the album. They’re usually the titles so every song gets really recognisable. Babes Wodumo is a legendary act and she brings the fire here. Something here is sounding like Zlatan’s “gbese” but I’m sure it’s not, lol. The male vocals are minimal, but the balance is hardly there. It’s all Wodumo in my head.
First solo track. DJ Lag really knows how to build a scene. There’s a Trap bounce somewhere here, yet there’s no denying the South African flavour. Is he the one humming? The expression on this is unique, deep, confounding. Most times the production goes from one idea to another in a split second, so sharp and complex. I thought it started like a rap song, now I’m hearing native chants and seeing a man searching for his soul. Wobbly keys and heroic claps swirling, very TV-esque.
Bells and beats. This is as sinister as anything Lag has created. The word “Shululu” intersected with production effects and another voice, a baritone. If you peep it, Gqom was created around a nightclub culture, so this album is better experienced. I’m not really feeling “Shululu” though, not on the level of the other songs. Maybe I’ll revisit.
Give me the money and I’ll probably make a film from only Gqom songs. Each time these beats drop I’m reminded of young people immersed in an activity, often at the extremes of emotional perception: very happy and almost ecstatic, or in profound anguish and confusion. Is there any middle ground for the black person? “Khavhude” has the strongest beat on this album so far. The features all deliver accordingly, dipping in and out of each other’s verses in a roundabout way, colouring the song in the brilliance of multiplicity.
By the title, this should be inspirational. Indeed it is. Lag hasn’t gone this direction all through the album–a sunny break. Here’s the middle ground I was looking for, hehe. The effects are cherry and light, save for the thumping drums at the center. As it progresses Lag gets sturdier, introducing whistles and faster paced rhythms. If you were jogging and this song came on, your pace would surely triple. At number nine and with six more songs to go, there’s an interlude vibe to this. What’s the progression from here?
The sound of buzzing flies opens this one, you just feel tingly around the skin. Seems intentional. The title just took another light. Lag really thrives on the depth of extremes. This big drum sound is everything, just love how each instrument is introduced, how the song swerves and catches back on each time that happens. I can picture the arm-swinging dance that would go with this. Arms and stomping feet, heavy facial expressions, combative. Tough. This is tough.
HOLY. This beat dropped like a monster from hell. Just remembered that tweet I saw where angels were drawn how the Bible described them, looking very weird and stuff. Wonder how demons would look. There’s very powerful singing in this track, possibly the first time on this album where the vocals exceeds the production. The obliterating force in Dladla’s singing captures why South African women singers have distinctly owned their different eras, from Ladysmith Mambazo to the Mahotella Queens, down to Busiswa and Moonchild Sanelly. The Mafikozolo lady deserves a shout too–electric performers, the lot of them.
The drums feel rubbery, elastic even. It’s not really distinct but sounds well paced, building up to something. Lag is keeping the vocals away, just getting things settled. There’s no boppiness in the first half, but here are the voices. The beat is contracting into complexity; more effects, sharp synths and drums. The features are not really singing, just laying dibs of talk over the beat. Lag is ending strong. It’s really a magic of technology that these kicks are not created by the masterful player of an ancient, big drum.
This song is trying to be good, but doesn’t match up quite well. The conventions of a Lag production are present, the bounce and mystery in full glare, but perhaps it’s the time length. A 15-track album is always challenging nowadays, but we can’t fault the artist. There hasn’t been many albums without a single skip, and that’s on fact. Best do what expresses you. Remember Kendrick Lamar on “The Heart Pt. 4”?: “They tell me seven tracks, I said fifteen/ Called it an EP, they say I’m tripping.” Okay guys, thesis over. The next song’s on.
Last song before the last song and Lag is all about that new wave. As usual, the drums are tough and there’s so much energy I haven’t gotten since about three songs back. I’m intrigued to hear the energy he’ll pair this with on the last track. It’s nice getting to the end of things. The album has no doubt been engaging but I reckon it’ll make a better listen when I’m somewhere in Lagos, getting lit and swept under the music’s frenzy. Wonder what the prospects are for Gqom entering Nigeria.
The self-appraising closer. How fitting. DJ Lag invites the same duo on “iKhehla”. Mampintsha starts things off, making the introduction and chanting DJ Lag’s name like the perfect hype-man. Babes Wodumo is typically energetic, infusing brightness with her distinct voice. When hers and Mampintsha’s meet, there’s a symbiotic understanding of each other’s textures, and they cede way appropriately. Lag’s production, compared to other songs, is quite laid back. He just seems to be in the background, enjoying the adulation of his favoured collaborators. He’s the King after all.
The world moves and sounds emerge; connecting a sound born in a South African township to global audiences is remarkable, talking more of keeping his legacy strong, updating style and keeping an eye on the future. DJ Lag’s success cannot be chalked up to luck.
Meeting With The King embodies that dedication to growth. At a sprawling one-hour-plus, Lag engages an array of elements to entertain his listener, but he never craves attention. He follows his heart, disappointing popular expectations at times. The songs are largely engaging, his collaborators present. As a debut album, it’s as accurate a presentation as any memoir could be, a fitting start to his latest arc as the global face of Gqom.
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