With the advent of the internet and subsequently “internet rap,” rappers have newfound abilities to stretch beyond the bounds of what rap and hip-hop traditionally is. Although internet rappers often get a bad, ahem, rap, the accessibility of mixing software and exposure to so many genres has allowed artists to experiment with beats, sounds and textures generally considered foreign to the hip-hop genre. This is exactly what Xzela has done on her latest, Crystalline.
Xzela is a Cincinnati-based artist. She started her musical career performing strictly acoustic sets, but by 2016 she turned her sights towards a blend of hip-hop and R&B with her debut mixtape, Monster. Xzela quickly followed up her debut with a collaboration with Devin Burgess in January of 2017 and released two more albums, Paint and SadLibs, the same year. Clearly she’s been busy and yet still had time to put together another new and just as exciting album.
Xzela has expertly mixed the warm sultriness of R&B with jazzy-trap beats to create a warm and full album that is, at the same time, decidedly chill. Crystalline is a lush album that gives off a feeling of a jazz singer in a smoky backroom. The beats she chooses are lo-fi, ambient and always with a jazzy touch--soulful keyboard moments punctuated by ticking high hats. If you’re familiar with the “Anime/Lo-Fi/Chill” YouTube videos, then you know what I mean.
Xzela’s dark and rich singing voice gives a very Kali Uchis vibe, but Xzela isn’t afraid to spit bars either. The third track of the album, “Daylight,” demonstrates how comfortable Xzela is in flowing from one right to the other. The track starts foggy as if just gaining consciousness as she croons. Then, she pauses and speaks to the audience in a very real way--almost spoken word--before rapping quick, sharp lines and finally flipping it and singing us out of the song.
With introspective and thoughtful lyrics coupled with cool, lush beats, Xzela creates an album that is very of the moment while sampling timeless slices of jazz, R&B, and hip-hop. Crystalline proves Xzela is a force to be reckoned with in the Cincinnati scene no matter what genre you’re in because she defies yet simultaneously combines them all.
For fans of: Kali Uchis, early Princess Nokia,
Our take: lo-fi, chill beats, sultry singing, rapping with thoughtful and emotional lyrics