AZERBAIJAN: Street Bangerz Volume 8 - Akshin Alizadeh
Tackling a number of genres through the lens of hip-hop instrumentals, this album lives up to its title
On his Spotify page, Azerbaijani musician Akshin Alizadeh describes himself as a “music hobbyist” who makes music “occasionally just for fun and not for making money”. Though the vast majority of artists we feature on this site are professional musicians who (at least at one time in their life) made a living through writing songs, performing at gigs, and recording albums, with varying degrees of success. However, the hobbyists are not to be dismissed. Like many industries surrounding the creative arts, the billion-dollar businesses that have agglomerated around them are often cutthroat and ruthless, and as such, many eschew this famously tricky world and instead pursue music solely as a pleasurable pursuit. Though Alizadeh has made the leap into professional music, with him signing to an American hip-hop label named Cold Busted who have released most of his work to date, that enthusiasm is very much present in his work. However, even here that homegrown aspect is kept, as the label prides itself on supporting indie artists with niche audiences. Whether or not that is actually true, the fact remains that Alizadeh’s passion for music is evident throughout this confident album.
“It is certainly true that Alizadeh’s passion for music comes to the fore, shown by the wide variety of music he has chosen to incorporate into the album.”
Street Bangerz Volume 8 does more or less what it says on the tin. Released as part of Cold Busted’s Street Bangerz series, Alizadeh’s style is mostly nu jazz and instrumental hip-hop with a moderate electro influence in the vein of someone like Parov Stelar or Fatboy Slim, with the influence of the latter being particularly noticeable on his reworked cover songs that pepper the album. The album begins with one such song, Once Upon a Time, which despite its title is not a reworking of Ennio Morricone’s superlative theme for Sergio Leone’s classic Spaghetti Western, Once Upon a Time in the West, but rather an interpretation of The Ecstasy of Gold and The Trio from Morricone’s masterpiece soundtrack for another Leone film, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The song is a tribute to Morricone’s ground-breaking musical work on those films. Morricone was seemingly hamstrung by the fact that Leone’s low budget Westerns could not afford a full orchestra, so Morricone had to fill in the gaps by using instruments one rarely heard in film scores of the day, namely electric and acoustic guitars, the human voice, whistling, jaw harps, and whip cracks, and in doing so, he became one of the few film composers to redefine what was possible in film scoring. Once Upon a Time uses guitar patterns similar (if not the same) as on The Trio, and he samples the emblematic choir used on The Ecstasy of Gold, alongside other Morricone-esque additions like whistling and whip cracks, all served up on a hip-hop beat with synths. If you couldn’t already tell, Morricone is one of my very favourite composers – not just for film – and Alizadeh does justice to the innovative spirit of his work, while also putting his own spin on proceedings in paying tribute to il grande Maestro.
Another one of the songs that is rather remarkable in many ways is the cover of Neil Young’s Southern Man, which has been remixed in such a way that you don’t recognise it as the famous song that it is until a good two minutes into the song. Featuring jazzy saxophones and an upbeat piano rhythm, it is miles away from the apocalyptic guitars of the Young original, but it somehow works, giving the song a very different but still effective musical tone. Alizadeh’s original tracks are also very enjoyable, with a personal favourite being Yiddish Love, a song I’d say is the best on the album. It takes a reggae guitar rhythm and hip-hop beats and combines them artfully with electro-swing elements such as a trumpet solo, and gloriously slinky piano playing. La Venganza is another track worth mentioning, as it overlays Mexican mariachi trumpet on top of his beloved hip-hop beats.
The album follows much the same formula throughout, and that is perhaps its only weakness. If you immediately click with Alizadeh’s style, you’ll likely enjoy the whole thing, but if retro hip-hop fusion is something that you’re not so keen on, maybe just a few tracks will float your boat. Whatever the case, it is certainly true that Alizadeh’s passion for music comes to the fore, shown by the wide variety of music he has chosen to incorporate into the album. From funk and jazz, to reggae, soundtracks, old school hip-hop, and swing, there’s a lot in this album that shows a knowledge of music history and genres from around the world, and that love for music shines through.