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YHWH Is Love is a winningly diverse and consistently charming offering from Jahari Massamba Unit


Release date: 01 March 2024
Jahari Massamba Unit HYWH is love cover
28 February 2024, 16:00 Written by Janne Oinonen

Following 2003’s Shades of Blue (which reimagined selections from the Blue Note label archives through a hip hop lens), Madlib’s affinity with jazz has hardly been in doubt.

Listen closely to any of Madlib’s finest hip-hop productions (such as Madvillainy, 2004’s classic duo album as Madvillain with MF Doom), and you’re faced with oodles of jazz-derived samples, alongside a restlessly shape-shifting sonic landscape full of arresting detail and sudden shifts in tone and intensity that not only sounds very little like the precision-tooled monotony of some contemporary hip hop production, but also hints at the spontaneity and telepathic interplay of finest jazz. Maybe it’s not a surprise, then, that the producer and multi-instrumentalist has established Jahari Massamba Unit as an individual twist on a heavily jazz-leaning instrumental project in collaboration with musician and producer Karriem Riggins.

The duo’s second outing as Jahari Massamba Unit started with Riggins sending Madlib a bundle of drum loops as a foundation for Madlib’s melodies and harmonies. Although Madlib is credited with all instruments apart from drums, it’s unclear how many of the instruments are actually played live, and how many are featured via samples derived from the obsessive crate-digger’s immense record collection: although Jackson is a multi-instrumentalist, it’s possibly not totally realistic to expect that his musicianship extends to handling all of the bass, guitar, copious keyboards, trumpet, sax, vibraphone and flute that flit in and out of the mix during the 45 minutes of YHWH Is Love.

The overall impression of the effortlessly laidback YHWH is Love is a more groove-orientated and horizontally organic take on Sound Ancestors, Madlib’s 2021 solo album (another rare outing as an artist rather than a producer), which twisted intricate sample- and loop-based constructs into alluring and often deeply affecting shapes that closely resembled conventional tunes. The duo’s 2020 debut Pardon My French has been described as a cross between a hip-hop beat tape and a free-range jazz jam. Same applies to the follow-up: during the more robust selections (such as the rubbery funk of appropriately entitled “Boppin’”), the tracks here could work as solid sounds-beds for rhyming, only with instrumental excursions occupying the focal point where an MC might otherwise reside. From ghostly wailing of a Hammond organ to smooth slow jams and rhythmic exuberance pointing towards Brazil and certain brands of groove from the African content (“Massamba Afundance”), YHWH Is Love is a winningly diverse and consistently charming offering: probably too laidback to be truly essential and occasionally prone to idling in wait for the next idea to strike, but certainly worthy of closer inspection.

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