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X Plastaz - Maasai Hip Hop

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Artist: X Plastaz

Album: Maasai Hip Hop

Label: Out Here

Review date: Jan. 7, 2005

The existence of the X Plastaz is fascinating even before you’ve heard the group: six Maasai emcees and singers from Northern Tanzania blending traditional Maasai a cappella chants, rhymes in Swahili and Haya, and an incredible amalgam of what they heard on the radio, from reggae to Hindi movie soundtracks. Now that’s a diaspora.

And now it’s also a record. Maasai Hip Hop is as much a compilation as it is a debut for the Arusha-based crew, because X Plastaz (rough name translation: “plasters which are put on the wounds of society”) have been making hits since 2001, with six Tanzanian No. 1’s included on this disc. A grasp on Swahili isn’t needed to enjoy the biggest bangers on this record, especially “Msimu Kwa Msimu,” Hindi-influenced hotness that ends with a traditional lion hunting song, “Aha!,” an anthem with a creeping bass and keys sound that would have fit in nicely on Dr. Dre’s 2001, and “Bamiza,” an ominous hardcore track more threatening because the lyrics go from whispers to shouts.

The X Plastaz sound is still at-times a work in progress, perhaps because P-Funk, the Tanzanian producer responsible for most of the tracks, was a bit overworked to fill the album. “Dunia Dudumizi” uses a traditional form of African vocal percussion nicely – a reminder that beatboxing came from the same continent where most of civilization did – but the track is nevertheless undercooked and overly sparse, with only a bad synth violin to providing melody. “Husanyikeni,” “Haleluya” and the nothing-but-a-beat “Kitita” are a few other songs likely to lose the linguistically challenged here; without understanding what the Plastaz are saying, there’s little to compel attention to these tracks.

With just enough musical backing, however, the magnetism of the Plastaz’ voices is not lost in translation: every one of the five emcees can seriously flow, and brother-sister tag team and Steve (now 15 years old) and Dineh (18) are staggeringly good rappers for any age, and make “Kutwesa Kwa Zamu” another album highlight. And singer Merege adds a traditional African element to the choruses that truly separates X Plastaz from a myriad of African groups stuck on replicating the South Bronx sound. Like Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), this is an album where there are sometimes not enough verses to go around in a large group of talented emcees; we can only hope Plastaz stick together better than the Wu did.

By Josh Drimmer

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