How much of a game changer is Scorpion Kings & Tresor’s ‘Rumble in the Jungle’

Wale Oloworekende and Dennis Ade Peter take a loose and somewhat critical look at the latest from the Amapiano pioneers

In the summer of 2019, Kabza De Small and DJ Maphorisa profoundly affected South African music with the release of ‘Scorpion Kings’, the debut project named after the moniker they perform under as a duo. The project further skyrocketed Amapiano into unreserved popularity, serving as a definitive mainstream moment for the House subgenre that’s now become the toast of South African music, and is currently influencing every corner of the African continent.

The critical and commercial acclaim of ‘Scorpion Kings’ wasn’t a one-off, as Kabza and Maphorisa have remained driving forces in the upward momentum of Amapiano, releasing four subsequent albums within ten months, and assisting on a long list of huge songs. The pair took a break from its prolific schedule after dropping ‘Once Upon A Time in Lockdown’ in the early days of the Coronavirus pandemic, allowing for the release of Kabza’s epoch-making debut LP, ‘I Am the King of Amapiano: Sweet & Dust’.

During that time away, they crafted ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, the recently released collaborative album with Congolese-South African singer Tresor. Breaking away from the multi-artist format of their previous albums, ‘RITJ’ was primarily curated with the multiple time SAMA award winner as its main vocal attraction. Also unlike their previous projects, ‘RITJ’ was preceded by a protracted rollout comprising singles with music videos, several release date pushbacks, and a phenomenal cover art that features a 3-headed, golden sculpture of Memmon, the mythical Ethiopian king also believed to have been based on an Egyptian Pharaoh. (Maphorisa has stated on multiple occasions that the name Scorpion Kings was picked because it reminded them of the deserts in Egypt.)

Three weeks after its release, Wale Oloworekende and I (Dennis) are taking a loose and somewhat critical look at ‘Rumble in the Jungle’, the elements that make it tick and the context surrounding it. (You can also read Wale’s 1-listen review here.)

It’s been nearly two weeks since ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ dropped. How many times have you listened front-to-back, and what’s your impression of the album’s general quality?

Wale: I’ve listened front-to-back just twice, but I’ve been playing some songs from it over the night, just on a repetitive loop. For days, just the same song, because I’m just enamoured by certain pockets of sound on there. For quality, I think it’s damn near illegal how the Scorpion Kings are able to create these stunning bodies of works in a regular five-to-six month period, some crazy stuff. ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ feels like an attempt to control the narrative of Amapiano by making it more cross-continental, good on them.

Dennis: I had this album in my email a while before it dropped officially, and I can say for a fact that I rinsed it proper with that SoundCloud link. Part of it was because it was pushed back several times – I’m guessing because of the pandemic – so each time it got close to a new release date, I’d play the album like two to three times before finding out it wasn’t coming out on that schedule, then the cycle would play out again. Like you’ve probably guessed from me listening so many times, I rate ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ highly, so much so that it might be my favourite project from the Scorpion Kings. (‘Nostalgia’ remains my pick for Tresor’s best album yet.) Like you said, it’s crazy how Kabza and Phori turn out amazing projects at a crazy, prolific clip. To me, this Scorpion Kings run is 2014-15 Future-level epic.

Prior to this, the Scorpion Kings have dropped five projects. How does this album fit into the duo’s narrative as Amapiano pioneers?

Wale: No one is really making Amapiano music as prolifically as Kabza and Maphorisa right now, and like you said about it being comparable to Future’s insane run earlier from ‘Monster’ to ‘Evol’, I think they have gotten better with each body of work; maybe not always with their sonic choices but just how they seem to sequence the music and how they dovetail with each other. This album is, for me, just the next logical destination because 2020 was truly the year of Amapiano and, with the way Nigerians are getting on the wave, they needed a body of work that just borrowed elements from different places and I heard shades of that on songs like “Folasade” and “Mali Mali,” it’s a deft way to experiment with the form while still planting that flag that, yeah, we did pioneer Amapiano. It’s such a long way from ‘Scorpion Kings’.

Dennis: Yeah, this album is way, way different from their eponymous debut, but there’s precedent for how refined and experimental it is. Their second album, ‘Piano Hub’, zoned in more into the soulful side of Amapiano, and Kabza’s own phenomenal debut album takes several sonic risks to great results. I think both these examples laid the groundwork for this album, because it positioned both producers/DJs as auteurs willing to dig and explore beyond the party-dominant ethos of Amapiano. Usually, they’d collaborate with dozens of artists on a single project, but working with a single vocalist clearly challenged them to keep things refreshing, through subtle but palpable experimentation with sounds from across the continent. I think this album proves that they’re not overly relying on being pioneers, they’re evolving in real time, which is essential to staying relevant in a genre that turns out new stars by the minute.

What did you make of Tresor as the main vocal collaborator on ‘Rumble in the Jungle’?

Dennis: Absolutely stunning! Tresor has one of the most distinct voices in the world, it’s not wildly rangy but the range of emotions he can evoke with it is amazing. For me, the hallmark of a great singer is not necessarily how great your voice is, but what you do with it. Since I found out about Tresor with his sophomore album, ‘My Beautiful Madness’, I’ve been intrigued by his voice, because it’s kinda folksy on the surface, but it’s also a swiss army knife that can convey ecstasy, mournfulness, longing, pensiveness and many more emotions with near equal effectiveness. ‘RITJ’ benefits from this ability to switch moods, which I rate highly because I’m a big fan of Scorpion Kings albums being stuffed to the ear with a variety of different voices. Like the internet would say, Tresor understood the assignment as the main vocalist on this album.

Wale: I think, for me, going into this, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d be lying if I said I was familiar with Tresor’s catalogue, but I thought it interesting that the Scorpion Kings were willing to trust one vocalist over the stretch of one album; I’m more used to the different voices on their albums. But Tresor should just add “The Magnificent” to his stage name because that was such a breathtaking performance. As you said, it’s not the range of his voice, it’s the depth that he has that makes him a standout. There’s a stretch in the middle of “Soro” where the beat just gets straight out jaunty and Tresor’s voice just goes full-on ethereal, it’s so thin. I think I understood why he was trusted to carry so much weight. 

Dennis: There’s more where that vocal magic came from. Consider this as me putting you (and any other interested readers) on, Tresor’s albums are loaded with great vocal performances.

Wale: I’ve actually been checking out some of his stuff. He has a new album coming out soon, so that should be great. 

There seemed to be a calculated attempt at positioning this album as a momentous release for Amapiano, with the protracted rollout, and international distribution (PLATOON). Do you think its legacy will match this intent?

Wale: It’s hard to forecast legacy, seeing as we are physically removed from the project’s primary market. But just based on the strength of the music, I suppose so. There’s none of those standout party anthems but it’s so cohesive, so I think it will get everywhere people want to have a great time. I’ve already seen it get looks at different places, it would be interesting to see how much further it goes.  

Dennis: Yeah, I agree with the album not really having a standout party anthem, which really isn’t an Achilles heel because it’s such a strong statement as a body of work. As much as I know about Amapiano, being a genre for and by South African townships, there’s an emphasis on percussive knock when it comes to songs that become really huge. ‘RITJ’ has great percussion use and the songs will make it unto club sets, but I don’t really hear anything with the potential smash effect of, say, Focalistic’s “Ke Star”, JazziQ & Busta 929’s “VSOP”, or even “Lorch” and “eMcibini” by the Scorpion Kings. From a global crossover standpoint, I can hear songs like “Folasade” and “Angelina” doing well in Dance festival settings, hopefully Ibiza comes calling soon. From a pan-African perspective, the album could probably have also benefited from a few features, kind of like how Kabza brought in Wizkid, Burna Boy and Cassper Nyovest for “Sponono” (which I believe could’ve been bigger if the promo was a bit more aggressive). I get the pan-African ethos but I think those calibre of features would have driven it further home, especially for casual listeners across the continent who are already hearing adaptations of the sound from their local artists.

What’s your personal favourites on the album?

Dennis: My favourite part of this project is the three song run that includes “La Vie Est Belle”, “Folasade” and “Soro”. I think this part epitomises how ‘RITJ’ is well-rooted in Amapiano, and also adventurous in the way that shows how truly collaborative the album is. Across all three tracks, Tresor is in different vocal elements but it’s all sublime; “La Vie Est Belle” is vividly introspective, “Folasade” captures the scary excitement of falling for someone and laying all your cards on the table, while “Soro”, like you’ve already mentioned, is just loaded with ethereal beauty. Also, this part features some of the most lustrous piano chords in the Scorpion Kings cannon, and the breakdowns encapsulate why Amapiano is an apex Dance subgenre – it’s impossible to not be viscerally affected by them.

Wale: I keep hearing different songs off the album and my preferences keep changing. I love “Starry Night” because it has this echoey feeling that makes Tresor’s voice achingly beautiful. It’s also one of the songs where the shakers are literally at par with the rest of the instrumentation –  another mark of how experimental this album is — but the shakers just give me good vibes. Tresor doesn’t have to shout or contort his voice, it just spurts out and that’s what I love about the sub-genre: that sense of ease. Then the last song, “Love like a Weapon.” It’s just so potent. I love the percussion here, it has that knock-on effect you talked about. It’s so jolting in fact because I don’t understand how it’s an album closer. The urgency will literally have you shaking your head, the message is still not for me sha, say no to toxicity.

Listen to ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ here.

@walenchi Is A Lagos-Based Writer Interested In The Intersection Of Popular Culture, Music, And Youth Lifestyle.

@dennisadepeter is a staff writer at the NATIVE