Album Reviews

EP Review: Unchained XL - The Migrant Mind (Independent)

Sam Smith

After deciding to move from metal to rap in order to make a splash on the local scene, Liverpool-born Nigerian New Zealander Hugh Ozumba AKA Unchained XL is back with a new fresh offering of Nigerian afrobeat-influenced hip-hop.

After releasing his debut EP Foreign Legacy last year, The Migrant Mind EP is a continuation of the fusion sound he developed on his previous project and sees him infuse rap with both funk and the Afrobeat of his family’s home country Nigeria of which he grew up on.

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Unchained XL

The EP is five tracks long and opens strongly with the up-tempo funk rap of Don’t Say Everybody Be King. On here, Ozumba raps over a heavy beat featuring what is quite an expansive instrumentation featuring layers of synths and horns provided by his live band.

After such an explosive start, things don’t show any sign of stalling anytime soon with the percussive-heavy Make We Cry. Here Ozumba is aided by special guests Nuel Nonso and Phodiso who provide some excellent backing vocals, vocals that include a homage to Nigeria and Botswana. The afrobeat influences are strong on this track with the only disappointment being that it finishes too early after only four minutes.

On Figures, Ozumba takes the lead again laying down more of a hardcore contemporary style of rap delivery set to what I would describe as being more of a traditional backing instrumentation, although flourishes of horns do make a welcome appearance.

The funk then returns on Na Wetin Dey No featuring Magugu and Skunkadelic. This is a song driven by a pounding bass line and sees more guests from the UK and New Zealand Nigerian music community given their chance to shine as both Magugu and Skunkadelic do on here with some stellar lines.

The EP then closes with the futuristic space funk rap of My Only Home, a song that has a slight grime feel to it in some of the vocals provided by Genesis Elijah and Femi Ashiru and also sees Ozumba show off his versatility as a vocalist and more especially as a singer.

With The Migrant Mind EP, Unchained XL and his amazing band have shown yet again that there is a space in the New Zealand rap scene for “funk rap.” The way he leans heavily on his Nigerian heritage and afrobeat in developing his own style is a unique twist and a welcome one at that to a sub-genre of hip-hop that has never really taken off in Aotearoa.

The hip-hop scene in New Zealand is one of the most racially and culturally diverse music scenes in New Zealand and the fact Unchained XL through his music and projects like this is giving a greater voice to the Nigerian New Zealand music community whether they are rappers, singers, or instrumentalists is fantastic and just another tick in the box for what is a truly vibrant time for rap in Aotearoa right now.

You can catch Unchained XL and his band at 95bFM’s Drive Island on April 12.

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Released: 2019

Written By: Sam Smith When he is not writing for Radio 13 Sam works in media and journalism at 95bFM radio and the University of Auckland. He also has is own personal music blog Nowhere Bros.