You can trash any tired ideas you have about great hip-hop hailing from the coasts or other major cities. There’s a thriving scene gaining momentum in far-flung locales like the Bluegrass State of Kentucky, especially Louisville where artists such as 2K Baby, Jack Harlow, and Bryson Tiller, but Elz Bentley joins them, a hour away in nearby Lexington, as an important new voice rises through the ranks. His new single “Buddha” builds on a memorable opening salvo of his career beginning in 2018. Bentley has a keen musical ear and that enhances his natural storytelling skills. Those skills are in full view with his latest single.
Bentley knows how to make the most out of a killer groove. The intimate physicality of the song’s music meshes well with his understated vocals. He keeps his writing style conversational which allows him considerable latitude with his phrasing – there’s nothing in this performance suggesting Bentley might trip himself up on the words. He molds his voice around the backing track in such a way that you know he’s listening to every musical nuance and trying to amplify those moments with his vocals.
Many modern hip hop performers wrap their arms around full-blown minimalism relying completely on the performer to get songs over with listeners. Bentley, however, gives listeners a well-rounded presentation with his balance between the vocal and musical components of the track. It is difficult, if not impossible, to ignore the strong groove Bentley creates from the trio of synthesizers, electronic drums, and bass. The bass demands to be played loud – the sternum-rattling heart of the track makes a deep impact. “Buddha” has a percussion track that plays off nice against his vocal creating a low-key but playful dialogue between the two. The song’s synthesizers contributions have a warm sound and never come off as shrill or misplaced.
The lyrical content, as mentioned earlier, has a street corner storytelling vibe. It never sounds like something he’s “made up” for the song but, rather, like a slice of his autobiography laid out for everyone to hear. Bentley isn’t the sort of performer who goes around preening like a peacock for people; songs such as “Buddha” and others of its ilk are grounded in undeniable reality. It’s the sort of quality you associate with musical acts possessing true staying power. He lives and dies with each word of this track, but it never feels overblown.
The video for the track hits the mark as well. There’s no extraneous frills, it’s just Bentley performing in and around an empty building in the city. The footage is excellent quality, however, and utilizes an array of music video tropes everyone will be familiar with. The jump cuts accentuate the song’s feel without ever becoming distracting. It’s the crowning touch on an impressive single release and further burnishes Bentley’s reputation as one of the pre-eminent talents rising up today. “Buddha” is one of the best hip-hop singles you’ll hear in 2020 and bodes well for Elz Bentley’s career going forward from here.
by Bethany Page