The older I become, the more I appreciate encountering art of any creed that can unlock the personal captivity of mundane cycles. In a world full of literal and figurative, mental and physical traps, you never know when you’ll need an escape from the patterns we often easily settle into. To discover an artist who offers an exit from our regularly scheduled program is to experience a refreshing solace. They are magical as Harry Houdini himself.
Shafiq Husayn—a veteran Los Angeles, California multi-instrumentalist, and one-third of hip-hop trio Sa-Ra Creative Partners—is such an artist. I only recently became acquainted with his history and artistry in hip-hop, but Husayn was a forward-thinker and prominent creative collaborator long before I started typing music reviews.
What attracted my interest in Husayn was a text from a friend who described his recent album as "somewhere between Flying Lotus and Funkadelic."
The album he was referring to is The Loop, Husayn’s newly-released, long-awaited follow-up to his 2009 debut album, Shafiq En' A Free Ka. With a decade between releases and no further context, pressing play with no expectations was exciting. It's a rush to explore the new and unknown. By the time I reached “DMT (The Whill),” the album’s cosmic fourth track, I no longer felt rooted in the year 2019.
This sensation of sudden departure persisted throughout the one-hour and 11-minute duration of Husayn’s 16-track sophomore voyage outside of contemporary time and space. Floating and weaving through jazz, soul, psychedelic, and funk soundscapes like a musical potluck of virtuosity was an absolute thrill. Musically, sonically, and thematically The Loop is as satisfying as a four-course home-cooked meal.
The album's enthralling atmosphere has quirky, discernible cues associated with Flying Lotus (who co-produced "Walking Round Town") and Funkadelic, but textures and influence from genius genre-hybrids Earth, Wind, & Fire and the late, great J. Dilla, among others, are also apparent. Loose, lengthy, and utterly boundless, Shafiq Husayn moves to rhythms that are familiar without being too nostalgic. The familiarity is warm, loving, like a reunion rather than re-watching a disappointing rerun. As each track ended and the next began, I floated further away from present-day characteristics.
In 2019, I expect a touch of contemporary trap present on almost every album. From country to pop, every genre has inherited ethos or attributes from the most popular genre worldwide. That's not true with Shafiq Husayn's sophomore offering. There isn't a single song under three minutes. I'm still surprised three five-minute songs (“Between Us 2,” “Mrs. Crabtree,” “On Our Way Home”) were placed back-to-back-back on the same tracklist. With how the album is structured and designed, The Loop acts as the antithesis to microwaved music consumption.
An intricate compilation of gifted, well-known vocalists and genre-blending production, the project requires patience that appears even more novel when placed in contrast to the current state of music. Spiritual odysseys are patient explorations, and The Loop doesn’t rush for any cheap climaxes. The Om’Mas Keith and Coultrain-featured “Hours Away” displays a gradual pace with serene results. “My-Story of Love/ Starring You” is another longer record, a delicate duet that’s elegant as it is saccharine. The overall album pacing is a quality fitting of listeners who are in search of something groovy but meditative, swapping immediate thrills for a tender slow-burn.
Released on March 29, 2019, through Nature Sounds, The Loop was delivered five years later than advertised in Shafiq Husayn’s 2014 interview with Afropunk. Husayn spoke of collaborators—ranging from newcomers like Anderson. Paak and Hiatus Kaiyoteto to legends Bilal and Erykah Badu—themes of love and connection, a heavy psychedelic influence, a 12-track length, and an April release date. That April came and went without an album and no further announcements.
Surprisingly, following his five-year hiatus, the album title remained unchanged; all the features Husayn promised are accounted for; musically and thematically everything is as he said it would be—just six songs longer. Nothing sounds obviously recent or painfully dated; time could never taint the vision of love and infinity on The Loop.
From top to bottom, The Loop is pleasant. This result exemplifies how music, when created outside the suffocating bubble of trends, cycles, and charts, has the potential to age differently. There is no need to rush a release date if what you've made doesn't solely exist in the past, present, or future, but rather within an ethereal limbo between all three.
More often than not, music has a way of easing the things we can’t physically escape from. The dire times aren't as dreadful when art, for a brief period, can remove listeners from pragmatic and nonsensical anxieties. Discovering a new album is the cheapest vacation the internet can offer us.
Entering Shafiq Husayn’s The Loop didn't take me poolside or to the beach, but it's been a pleasing escape from modernity before the next viral song hits.