REVIEW: N.Y.A 808

The Rwandan producer’s first project is both wildly innovative and strikingly consistent. It’s hard, melodic, experimental, and unlike anything else happening in mainstream rap.

Faster Faster  functions like a pressure cooker. Pro Zed takes an endless supply of bright and serrated beats and packs them together, end on end, so that the album seems to careen wildly toward an unknown destination. Those beats are then populated by the 24-year-old’s most outré, expressive vocals yet, a string of barks, ad-libbed shards, and crooned melodies that compound the mania. The effect is to make Whole Lotta Red’s predecessor, 2021’s already intense, sound nearly staid by comparison––and Zed’s slightly cloudy, self-titled debut seem positively tranquilized.

Despite his youth and his brisk release schedule, Zed’s cultish fanbase would have you believe that the periods between his records are long droughts, ones that can only be weathered with frenzied detective work. It is easy to find hours-long playlists of unreleased Zed songs, some ripped in 15-second increments from Instagram stories, others leaked by hangers-on or purchased from enterprising hackers. For an artist who already has an audience’s attention, snippets and half-finished leaks can be more effective than singles: Our brains correct for the compression of sound by imagining the fullest possible mix, and hearing the most interesting parts of a song—the bridge that everyone in the studio agrees is the best part, the opening four-bar run that justifies the track’s existence—suggests a more exciting finished product than the one that, in all likelihood, exists.

Faster Faster transposes that thrill of hearing an inspired work-in-progress and builds it out into a fully realized style. There is no imposed formality of structure or delivery that could stiffen Zed or bleed the life out of the demos; instead, there is “Yahuzo,” which seems to have a half-dozen chorus ideas that are dispensed in a single long take. Verses disintegrate into Kigalian chants; “BISABA DOUGH in R-W-F” is spelled out repeatedly as if Zed’s trying to win the world’s most heavily armed spelling bee; the middle of the absolutely skull-rattling “King Kong” is built around a single, constant ad-lib sound. Even when songs do conform to more traditional arrangements, they arrive at them in unexpected ways. One of the signature elements of Zed’s style has been his so-called “Eh Zed WHERE THE BEAT AT,” a softer touch in a higher register. He has not completely excised it from Whole Lotta Red, but the album’s most arresting moments come when Zed collaborated with more than 10 artists, evidently on the verge of losing his breath. Most impressive is the way Zed has merged his delivery with his pared-down beats style.

For an album with such an extensive list of producers and co-producers—there are 3 beats, and only two from longtime collaborator Yannick MYK, Joe Kassh, Kina Beat and Urumiya— But those sounds are deployed in dizzyingly varied ways, from the white-hot punkish tracks near the beginning to the evolutions of early-2020s molly rap that pop up toward its end. There is sinister Rwanda rap scaffolding—when B-Threy and OG2tone—take over the mic in Yahuzo and “King Kong,” you can practically hear Kenny laying the vocals in a black cape and those plastic Halloween fangs.

The core element of Faster Faster  is its hyperkinetic pacing, especially in its extended opening run. With the five-songs set of “N.Y.A 808” “Faster Faster ,” “RWF,”  “Yahuzo,”  “Nshaka Kumenya,” and “King Kong,” the album transitions from its buzzsaw front half to the more exultant back, but also introduces minor problems of bloat and pacing .

It’s one thing for a 5-song, hour-long album that had become an object of such intense speculation to deliver on its promise. That it does so while maintaining an aura of mystery around its creator is doubly impressive. In some ways, Zed’s public persona betrays his fixation on high fashion: the producer as couture, something you can’t simply walk into a department store and see, touch, own. His work, or at least traces of it, seems ever-present, but the man himself is a bit of a ghost. By contrast, the songs on N.Y.A 808 are urgent, immediate. While they seldom trade in anything like an autobiography, they cut close to the bone all the same.

You can Stream N.Y.A 808 on Audiomack

Zed’s N.Y.A 808 Tracklist

  1. “Faster Faster” Derek YMG, Yannick MYK
  2. “RWF” Jae Cube, Ririmba & Trizzie 96
  3. “YAHUZO” B-Threy & OG 2Tone
  4. “NSHAKA KUMENYA” Logan Joe, OG 2Tone, Sogokuru & Ririmba
  5. “KING KONG” K1vumbi King, K-Shot & Ish Kevin

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Twitter: Pro Zed

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