PALAU: TheRock, Vol. 1 - BfolkMuzik680
Updated: Nov 1, 2021
A cracking debut album, showcasing a talented young hip-hop artist with depth and heart
Whilst one of the mantras on our project has been to give each country and artist ‘their fair due’, we cannot pretend that when it comes to discovering albums from the world’s microstates we hold our breathe in trepidation as we do not have a wide range of records to choose from. Being aware that Palau is one of the least populous nations on earth with just over 18,000 inhabitants, my experience of listening to the quality early tracks on BfolkMuzik680’s record for the first time initially elicited feelings of relief before that sentiment then turned into curiosity and admiration. Up until today, the album remains my favourite from the Micronesian states (though, I am of course optimistic to discover a Marshallese album that somehow trumps this one). Although that might sound like damning with faint praise, that is far from being the case. TheRock, Vol. 1 is a genuinely accomplished effort that could sit in the pantheon of great debut rap albums.
“...his all-rounded talent, both musically and lyrically, demonstrate a level of success on this record as a bona fide rapper, which is arguably a more fitting tribute to his cousin than anything that can be said about him.”
One might be cynical about the fact that BfolkMuzik680 exchanged his life in the Pacific for life in Texas during his childhood, but despite the obvious Western influences that can be heard in his style and flow, listen carefully and one can hear how much his origins in Palau inform his work. Both his artist name and his album title are references to his homeland, with +680 being the calling code he needs to dial to ring those dear people he left in his youth. Though his upbringing was wholly Western, with there being only four Pacific islanders in his school, with him being the only Palauan, the meshing of Western music with lyrics driven by his principles gained on ‘the rock’ (as he affectionately calls it) make for a heart-warming listen.
Many of the tracks reference the importance of family, with him proclaiming the line ‘family above it all’ on the opening track Changes. In People he speaks of going back to Palau and reconnecting with his life there. It is abundantly clear that BfolkMuzik680 on some level feels he owes his career and his motivation to his brethren back at home. He raps about using his music as a platform to let other young Palauans know that they can dream. Though this track is also particularly enjoyable for the gloriously edited sample of Birdy’s People Can Heal People that accompany the lyrics, it is arguably not the most important one that speaks of his origin story.
Inspiring (Ded 2 Tjay) Megellakl is a deeply moving song that serves as a homage to his cousin he lost in tragic circumstances. Lovingly known as ‘Tjay’, his cousin passed away after a fight in California which was treated as a homicide case. Tjay clearly was an instrumental figure in BfolkMuzik680’s life as he bought him a 2Pac CD and introduced him to rap, an act which changed his life forever. The irony of BfolkMuzik680’s introduction to the genre being from a 2Pac CD is that this lyrically beautiful track has echoes of the West Coast’s superstar masterpiece Dear Mama. His ability to rap openly about the trauma whilst also reminisce in a wholly loving way makes for a gratifying listen as you know what he is saying comes from the heart. BfolkMuzik680 has spoken about the healing nature of discovering the music on cassettes in his cousin’s room after his untimely passing. The gift of hip-hop for the Palauan is that it has allowed him to express himself emotionally; something that might be alien to those like him, who did not grow up in an environment in which talking openly in a vulnerable manner is taboo.
Though lyrically this might be at the zenith of BfolkMuzik680’s susceptibility to painful emotions, he bravely raps about difficult subject matter throughout the record. All In My Head addresses themes of feeling gas-lit by others’ criticisms and acknowledges some of his own demons that he faces while The Light is another lyrically emotional tune that observes the impact of negativity, violence and the overstated importance of reputation in his community. The latter is one of a handful on the record that have subtle but powerful religious undertones to them. Yet, this might make it sound like the album is only of lyrical quality and musically lacks substance. I would, however, immediately quash that position and state that his all-rounded talent, both musically and lyrically, demonstrate a level of success on this record as a bona fide rapper, which is arguably a more fitting tribute to his cousin than anything that can be said about him.
Songs like Money on My Mind and Life Story have some great beats to them that would make most listening bob their heads in appreciation of the music. Meanwhile, All Falls Down have really memorable female backing vocals that remind me of Dido’s work on Eminem’s Stan as both artists contribution blend perfectly to make that song as powerful as it is. However, for me the pièce de résistance is Come Along. There is not much to say other than it is a certified banger. With quite a 90s hip-hop beat, it speaks of enjoying the fruits of the hustle and even though it has a certain swag to it, it is not in your face in that often annoying ‘bitches, Bugattis and bling’ kind of way that many rappers opt for, bragging with a faux-arrogance. The track even references Bob Marley, which is no surprise as BfolkMuzik680 hails from a family of cousins mostly into reggae. Overall, whilst the album is not exactly revolutionary, I couldn’t help but feel like BfolkMuzik680 reveals himself as a flawed individual with good intentions, high ambitions and genuine talent. This makes both him and the music likeable. His efforts both to help put Palau on the map and not to forget his origins are endearing, and I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.