Feelstyle - Break it to Pieces

Before I begin this review, I feel it only fair to warn you that I do not usually listen to music labeled ‘hip-hop'. Its not that I do not appreciate the art form, quite the opposite being true. Hip-hop is one of the few last bastions of musical egalitarianism, where the disenfranchised have traditionally found a voice. However, most of the hip-hop I have been subjected to is what I call ‘Bitches and Ho's Hip-Hop'. Which is typically entails a gold-chained Fubu wearing gangster expounding misogynist discourse whilst aggrandizing what a hardass he/she is.


I am pleased to report that Feelstyle is the absolute antithesis of all of that.


Born in Samoa but raised in New Zealand, Feelstyle (aka Picasso or Kas), has been a highly regarded member of the NZ hip hop scene since the mid 1980's, when the movement was in its naissance. Among his achievements, Feelstyle has won the NIU FM – Best Pacific Hip Hop Artist award. Having spent the past three years crafting Break it to Pieces, this well crafted long player illustrates the sound reasoning for such a high distinction.


The opening track Su' ga ea! Sets the tone for the album. Cruisey, but with a dash of funk in all the right places. The instrumentation is lush without being overblown. Allowing Feelstyle's raps to sit comfortably within the grooves.


In its overall musicality, Break it to Pieces its an album which is difficult to typify, with lashings of funk (Break it to Pieces, Enlightenment Piece), dollops of pop (Mybrotherswillkillyou) jiggers of jazz (Su'amalie) and all overlaid with a solid sprinkling of Pacifica. In my mind, Freestyle's melding of influences and style beautifully illustrates the Hip-hop ethos of telling your story while appropriating just the right elements to make your message as powerful as possible.


The strength of the album is Freestyle's rap's themselves. Themes such as family, relationships and social issues are explored bravely and beautifully with nary a gold chain or a Fubu t-shirt in sight. Feelstyle's bilingual Samoan/English rapping gives the lyrics a tangible intensity. And whilst they are not immediately understandable to my unlearned ear, his manner of delivery breaks any perceived language barriers. This is also assisted by the strikingly designed CD booklet, which gives a brief overview of each track.


Special mention must also go to Cameron Undy, whose bass work makes the album rate high on the shake-your-booty meter. The musicianship of the many guest artists appearing on Break it to Pieces is first-class and has been melded beautifully by Submariner (aka Andy Morton) who's production gives the album a clean, crisp and overwhelmingly ear-grabbing listen ability.


Despite the strength of the individual tracks, Break it to pieces is not a singles album. Rather, it is the album that you put on at the chilled - out end of the party and appreciatively nod your head to, letting the music surround you like the cool blue ocean it evokes. It is certainly going to be on high rotation during my next beer and balcony chill out session; I suggest it's on at yours too.

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