Reviews May 15, 2011
Native Sun

Blitz the Ambassador was born and grew up in Accra City, Ghana, and he makes that clear in a number of these twelve, punchy, self-referential and stylistically kaleidoscopic tracks. He came to the US to go to school, and now makes his home in Brooklyn. Native Sun is Blitz’s fourth CD, and it reveals him as a seasoned MC, a fast, crisp rapper equally at home in English and Twi, his native tongue, and a first rate arranger as well. On his last CD, Stereotype, Blitz began edging towards bringing more of the sounds of Africa into his urban mix, but on Native Sun, he goes further, incorporating Twi raps, samples from classic highlife and Guinean danceband music, and lots of afrobeat groove and blare. There is a movement afoot to define a truly “African” hip hop—music that sounds like Africa, and with this release, Blitz places himself at the forefront.

The first two tracks, “En Trance” and “Dear Africa” run together in a tour-de-force that starts with a solo trumpet playing in a North African mode, and moves quickly through a driving groove based on a Ghanaian bell pattern and featuring shout-outs to African leaders, skanky funk, a slow Mande groove reminiscent of the Super Rail Band’s classic “Mansa,” and ripping, brassy Afrobeat with vocals from Les Nubiens—all in about nine, riveting minutes. The fluidity of styles and ideas is masterful.

Blitz is a powerful presence when he raps, notably on “Accra City Blues” and “Free Your Mind,” but he leaves lots of room for others. There’s a real community feeling to his vision of hip hop. Rwandan crooner Corneille sings a tuneful refrain on the motivational, feel-good song “Best I Can.” Keziah Jones and Congolese rapper Baloji (also part of the new wave of Afro-hip hop) join a chorus of guests on the driving “Wahala.” Chuck D raps back and forth with Blitz to great effect on “The Oracle”--“It’s not where you’re from. It’s where you’re at.” Amen.

The samples—K. Frimpong on “Akwaaba” and Bembeya Jazz on “Accra City Blues”—are used artfully, with Blitz’s excellent band seamlessly picking up the sound so that you can’t tell where sampling stops and performance begins. The album is filled with great musicianship, Raja Kassi’s shredding guitar solo on “Native Sun” (which also features a strong rap from Shad), and superb brass arranging and execution throughout.

What is most beautiful about Native Sun is the way it makes you feel that hip hop, afrobeat, R&B, and traditional African sonorities and rhythms truly belong together—as if they were never really separate in the first place. The album ends with a kora and acoustic guitar duo, bookending the solo trumpet that began the journey, and winding up one of the most impressive and important African hip hop releases we have heard yet.