Release Date: Oct 1, 2013
Record label: Fade to Mind
It used to take ages for underground sounds to find their way into mainstream pop music. Information moved more slowly, recordings took more time to produce, and there were layers of cultural gatekeepers to be navigated in the process, so subcultures that craved obscurity could usually find it. The internet and digital recording technology have changed that.
“I’ve seen the future/ And it’s already over.” Kelela sings from beyond the void of what has already happened, which is everything. Dance music has digested R&B, which has digested dance music, which has digested itself. Kelela has seen the recursive figure-eights her emotions mimic when locked in play with another ego, sometimes forming a shape familiar to her and to the society to which she belongs as love, but more often in a shape less easily identifiable, something more insidious.
Singers teaming up with forward-thinking dance producers to make pure pop has become a trend—think of Jessie Ware and Julio Bashmore, or Katy B and Geeneus. But the idea of that taking place within the Night Slugs / Fade To Mind axis, which includes some of bass music's most exciting and experimental artists, is downright salivating. Kelela thought so, too.
One of the threads that defines the Fade to Mind label/collective is the promise of boundaryless club music for a generation that has never really gotten over the death of Aaliyah. Beneath every masterful bootleg by the likes of Kingdom, Nguzunguzu, and Total Freedom is a hypothetical: what if there was a singer who could bring new life to these “sad, sexy, scary” compositions? With her eagerly-anticipated debut Cut 4 Me, Kelela delivers on that promise. The album (whose “mixtape” designation is wholly inadequate) teams the young talent with an accomplished list of collaborators from the ranks of Fade to Mind and Night Slugs, each pairing somehow more striking than its already impressive parts.
The thing about debut albums is that, with a few exceptions, there’s not much to compare them to. Maybe there will be a buzz-building EP (Black Kids), or a few singles that no one can get enough of (Lorde). But generally, they’re a clean slate.Other than live performances, most of the expectations surrounding L.A.-based singer Kelela’s debut mixtape were culled from her collaboration with Teengirl Fantasy, “EFX.” And though that track definitely sparked interest, Cut 4 Me is the kind of debut that comes brimming with possibilities, because, in a world where everyone knows what everyone else is eating all the time, Kelela was, and remains, relatively mysterious.What isn’t a mystery is if this mixtape is good or not.
“Somebody gotta survive,” August Alsina says in one of the spoken interludes on his debut major label EP, “Downtown: Life Under the Gun” (Radio Killa/Def Jam). He’s just finished tearfully telling the story of how he learned about the murder of his brother, after singing a song, “Don.