DJ Lag – Meeting With The King
There’s something inherently badass about an artist or band using their name as the title of one of their songs. It’s quite metal, actually. In that genre, it’s seen as a sort of flex by a band who’ve reached a point at which they’ve garnered the merit to pull such stunts without caring about what anyone else thinks about it. DJ Lag is at that point, and on his debut album Meeting With The King, he concludes with a five minute victory lap aptly named after himself. It’s like, the audacity. But if anyone has earned such the right to such audaciousness, it’s Lag.
DJ Lag released his debut EP on WhatsApp. Rejecting traditional Western methods of distribution, Lag pioneered the unorthodox way that South Africa’s dance music has come to be shared. Amapiano, arguably one of the most influential forms of electronic music currently being played, is often shared via WhatsApp groups rather than Spotify. It’s the sort of rejection, or rather subversion, of Western standards that beats at the heart of the music that Lag creates. Gqom is a hybridised form, not just in style but also theory, arising from the Rainbow Nation frustration of young black creatives confronting the gritty reality of South Africa’s continued systemic inequality. Over the past decade, gqom has slowly bubbled its way up from the townships of Durban to sound systems across the world. The sparse, grimey deep house/kwaito mutant that is most identified by its heavy and monstrous bass (known locally as ‘uthayela,’ Zulu for corrugated iron) can mostly be accredited to pioneers such as Griffit Vigo and of course, Lag. In fact, Lag in particular can be credited with formulating and developing uthayela as a major style and distinguishing factor for Gqom, and it’s this sound that is largely responsible for the genre’s explosion. Lag has seen a triumphant few years. With his sound catapulting him to international recognition, he’s played major festivals across the world and has worked with distinct tastemakers such as Pete Tong and Diplo. In 2019, he was tapped to produce for Beyoncé on her (questionable) ode to Africa, The Lion King: The Gift. Meeting With The King arrives as his official debut album after nearly a decade of acclaimed singles and EP’s, on the back of massive anticipation and expectation.
While ‘uthayela’ has become synonymous with Lag and gqom, he’s never boxed his sound to conform to a singular style. Lag has always experimented with different stylistic approaches to his genre, and his pioneer status has given him the latitude to do so, pushing and pulling the boundaries of gqom as he pleases. For Meeting With The King, he’s embracing other popular forms of African club music. The opening tracks Thongo Lami and Destiny are most evident of this, two smooth and melodic cuts that are essentially afrobeat / amapiano hybrids. Thongo Lami is most atypical of Lag’s signatures, though the track is a definite bait and switch. Followed by Destiny, you’d be forgiven for assuming Meeting With The King plays into pop trends. It’s at the climax of Destiny that the album’s true form reveals itself. Beneath Amanda Black’s breathless vocals, washes of heavy bass and a whining siren threaten to bubble over. On Raptor, they do. The blaring horns of the track’s opening moments set the tone for the remainder of Meeting With The King, which sees Lag and a bevy of collaborators deep dive into the most ferocious parts of his signature sounds while playing with elements of trap, amapiano, and rave. It’s a declaration of his status as the master of gqom, and Lag freely pulls the form in whatever direction he dares to go. Khavhude throws an amapiano log drum atop a racing, serpentine Eurodance synth and warbling, auto-tuned vocals. Yasho Leyonto is amapiano possessed by something sinister. Something Different sounds like gqom placed in a syphon gun, a pressurised formulation that builds in tension as its sounds threaten to explode beyond the confines Lag places them in. Lucifer attempts a similar device with whirring, browbeaten synths that whine in the distance and create an atmosphere of rising edge. There’s a definite emphasis on the percussion and rhythm of the form, and tracks like No Child’s Play and New Wave are exercises in the potential impact of gqom’s percussive elements. New Wave in particular, with its relentless banging and vogue style crashes, explores the rhythmic potential of the form by expanding its boundaries toward other styles.
Meeting With The King plays out like an expertly structured DJ set. The sequencing of the album is excellent, carrying us from the more melodic and lighter sides of Lag to his most dark and foreboding carefully. We are guided into the various tones of the album through phases and shades, rather than sharp U-turns or jarring contrasts. It makes for a beguiling experience, and one that speaks volumes towards Lag as a visionary in South African dance music. Having already achieved this status without the formality of an album, Meeting With The King serves as a milestone that bookends the first chapter of Lag’s journey and legacy. From this point onwards, he has earned the freedom to explore things outside of the uthayela scope like never before, and one gets the sense that he’s been ready for this for some time. Meeting With The King has secured his throne.
Listen to Khavhude from Meeting With The King below.
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