I-Wolf Soul Strata

Most downtempo/trip-hop records are designed for heads that want to tune out and chill; I-Wolf’s Soul Strata is for those who will listen with serious ears. The production is tightly layered with strains of hip-hop, soul, rock, dub and free jazz, but it never sounds predictable or self-consciously hybrid. Rather, the elements come together with a brooding, yet bluesy, attitude. Part of this has to do with the originality of I-Wolf’s programming. He doesn’t rely on old school samples and his beats appeal to more than the head-nodding factor. There are also sudden eruptions of instrumental chaos, dissonant riddims and spatial tensions, all echoing Roots Manuva as much as Sun Ra. But it’s I-Wolf’s collaborations with Damon Aaron, Cesar and others in the vocal cast that takes Soul Strata to the next level. It’s like hearing Lenny Kravitz singing R&B, except the lyrics are about love from a position of melancholy, angst and more than anything, honesty. There’s not much in urban or electronic music that probes the darker emotions with this much soul as well as experimentation. The winning combination might not make Soul Strata a likely candidate for a mainstream crossover, but it does place I-Wolf well in the ranks of trip-hop greats Massive Attack and Portishead. (Klein)