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Kareem Idris | photo via kareemidris.bandcamp.com

Over the past year, North Philly native Kareem Idris has been exploring his spiritual side through hip hop. He released a new album, The Year in Color, which focuses on the time after his initiation as a Yoruba priest in the Afro-Caribbean Lukumi religion (also known as Santeria). It is a follow up to his previous album, The Year in White, in which he talks about his initiation process (which partly involved having to wear white for a year, hence the title).

An album like this could have easily ended up seeming pretentious, cringe worthy, or just plain hotep. I had braced myself to hear poorly sampled drums from random world music compilations and nonsense about Nubian queens with natural hair. To my pleasant surprise, the album has an old school hip-hop feel with catchy, chill drums, memorable, jazz influenced melodies, and uplifting and truthful lyricism.

One especially memorable track is “UFOs,” notably the final verse. In the last verse, Idris impressively tells a story in which he is pulled over by police who intend to harm him. With lyrics like “Us aliens are melanated and hunted for surviving” he sets up the story. He uses his psychic powers to telekinetically drive the get away car, before crashing into a wall and being rescued by aliens to the dismay of the crooked cops watching below. It’s a Luke Cage-esque concept of using sci-fi to confront and heal from trauma, like the realities of police brutality in our society.

Although Idris is now a priest, none of his verses sound preachy or condescending. He utilizes vivid storytelling, clever metaphors, and references to Lukumi and relatable experiences in his own life. Despite the Lukumi references that you might not understand, the lyrics and stories are not hard to follow or relate to. Perhaps most interesting, is Idris’ amazing ability to tell intricate stories with vivid imagery and heightened lyricism.

Another memorable track from the album is “Duels”, in which Idris tells the story of a Western shootout between a young, arrogant stranger and the boss of the town, an older, more reserved man. The younger man comes into town causing trouble, and throwing dirt on the older man’s name, and finally challenges him to a duel. The older man accepts, and the whole town watches from the shadows as they have their duel outside the bar. Idris is able to be very detailed, without dragging the story along, and it’s full of suspense.

Overall, I think this album is particularly impressive. The 18 track project features graphic storytelling, lyricism, mellow old school beats, and Idris’ unique voice and perspective. It would have been especially interesting to see more of a modern hip hop influence displayed in this album a la Kendrick or Talib Kweli. It’ll be interesting to see what Kareem Idris does next.

Listen to Kareem Idris’ new album The Year in Color down below.

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