Eslam Jawaad - The Mammoth Tusk
Review by Jack Foley
YOU have to admit, Damon Albarn gets around a bit. Not content with reviving Blur and taking part in ultra-successful side projects such as Gorillaz or The Good, The Bad & The Queen, he’s also partial to the odd cameo on albums from the likes of Amadou and Mariam.
And so it is that Albarn now crops up on the debut LP from new hip-hop star Eslam Jawaad, entitled The Mammoth Tusk, and duly lends it street cred.
The Blur frontman crops up on Alarm Chord, a snappy pop/hip-hop crossover that certainly owes a lot in style to Albarn’s work with Gorillaz. It has quirky electronic loops, a central rap from Eslam himself and a sung chorus from Damon that works well in contrasting styles.
In truth, if you didn’t know before listening, you might never peg the vocals for Albarn’s. But it’s a measure of the singer-songwriter’s desire to expand his horizons [continually] that he’s now part of a hip-hop album from an artist who herald from the sand addled heat of Syria and Lebanon.
Eslam, for his part, has concocted an interesting – if not totally successful – debut offering that does at the very least bring something a little bit different to the hit-and-miss genre.
Opening track Pivot Widdit, for instance, is an immediately take-notice fusion of Eastern influences and hard-hitting raps over a rock-hard back-beat that’s suitably empowering for an entry point.
The remainder of the album, meanwhile, drops biting political commentary with Eslam’s own experiences of living in an environment with extreme anti-Middle Eastern sentiment.
Title track The Mammoth Tusk, for instance, recounts the incredible true story that inspired the album: a cinematic tale of an ill-fated Middle-Eastern mafia deal to transport an actual tusk of a woolly mammoth.
But Eslam also knows how to ensure success on the mainstream and picks his collaborators well. Albarn is a bit of a master-stroke, as is De La Soul on the hip, old-skool Rewind DJ, another of the album’s highlights.
So Real features trademark, off-kilter production from the legendary RZA of the Wu Tang Clan, and even includes a special intro from Wu brethren GZA, while Babba’s Shotgun is an up-tempo fusion of singing and rap that includes some nice guitar licks and some easily danceable beats.
Admittedly, tracks like Tickle, Heave Ho and Criminuhl feel lazy by comparison to the album’s best efforts, and more derivative of the likes of Eminem and/or The Game and Wu Tang Clan. But on the whole, The Mammoth Tusk succeeds as a noteable hip-hop debut from Eslam that contains more than its fair share of pleasant surprises.
Download picks: Pivot Widdit, Rewind DJ, Alarm Chord, Babba’s Shotgun, So Real