Our brains are already over flowing. We need to finish that report for our job and go grocery shopping and text that girl back and try to eat healthier but then Instagram that burger we just ate and find a new sure-fire workout plan to burn off that burger and shit now we're really behind on that report and how often are you supposed to rotate your tires again?
So of course we look for easy identifiers, landmarks to help us navigate new terrain quickly. We don't have time to learn about a new artist, discover their unique history. Our brains only have so much room. Just tell us they're from here or there, they sound like this guy but also a little bit like that guy, and we'll take a guess on whether we'll like them or not. Oh, they're not from the U.S.? Then they're an "international artist." Who has time to figure out the difference between Germany and South Africa and Hong Kong, it's all just "not America," right?
I'm going to tell you where Muzi's from, a little bit about who he sounds like, but it won't help much without hearing the music. It all just adds up to something we don't have an easy identifier for yet, no established landmark. Born in Swaziland, Muzi moved to the U.S. with his mother at the age of seven to escape apartheid and then grew up in Atlanta, first Jackson St. and then Adamsville. Sonically, he was fed a steady diet of Fela Kuti and more traditional African music but also had a cousin who turned him onto rap music like Bone Thugs and Outkast. Throw in the country western music he came across living in Atlanta, from Shania Twain to Boz Scaggs, and you have....I don't know, whatever all that adds up to.
I first heard Muzi almost four years ago, when he was working alongside Novel and Shoden1, who I knew well and at the time were making the kind of darker, more atmospheric and ambient R&B that later became widely popularized by acts like The Weeknd. (Hooray for easy descriptions and landmarks!) When I recently talked with Muzi I learned that those early songs with Novel were some of the first he ever recorded, but far from his first musical experiences. In high school he formed an R&B group and did the talent show circuit, eventually landing at Morehouse College where he was more interested in forming musical relationships than studying.
It was that relationship building that lead to working wht Novel and the early Somnolence sound, but as he told me, that sound now belongs in the past. Not because of anything negative, but simpy because he's at a new place in his life, and it feels like America is in a new place as well. Enter his new project, Muzi Mnisi the L.P., an album that he described as, "More of a depiction of what I'm living now. This is real life, as a grown man you live differently. And we all see the social conditions African Americans are living in. This album is where I take a Southern sound but infuse it with some content that lands for everybody."
Like previous Top Prospect Anderson .Paak, Muzi is also an artist that defies easy labeling as new or veteran. He's been making music in some capacity for years, but in some ways his most recent work feels like a birth, an artist truly figuring out who he is, what he wants to represent, and turning those intentions into a new reality. In some ways Muzi was lucky to not have blown up earlier because it allowed him the flexibility to grow and change and mature without being constantly measured against his earliest work in the public eye. In our conversation he insisted that he always tries to remain musically agnostic, letting each song take him where it wants to. That might mean rapping one second and singing the next, leaning into trap music influences one minute and more traditional African influences a track later. During our interview Muzi said, "I dont' want to be stuck inside writing the record, I want it to just come," and his insistence on fluidity shows.
That insistence also means that Muzi's continued rise likely won't be a fast one. Major labels like consistency and predictablity in their artists, winning formulas they can turn out on time and time again with only small tweaks, and the labels feel that way because it mirrors the general public's attention span, there need for clearly defined music that can easily slot into their already stuffed brains. Instead, Muzi represents a growing population of people who don't really belong to any one place or culture, but that also means he can belong to any place or culture. He has the potential to unite people around our shared differences. It's a difficult proposition, but one that has the potential to be powerful. We all belong to our own tribes. We are all the tribe.
[Nathan S. is the managing editor of The DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. He also occasionally talks in podcast form and appears on RevoltTV. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.]