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Benga - Diary of an Afro Warrior

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Artist: Benga

Album: Diary of an Afro Warrior

Label: Tempa

Review date: Mar. 3, 2008

If 2006 was the world's introduction to the dark dubstep undercurrent rippling through South London since the turn of the millenium, then 2007 was the scene's proving ground. With the mass critical praise of Burial's sophomore record catapulting the release into a host of Top 10 lists last year, the latest mutation of UK club craze has officially made its presence felt in the consciousness of artists and fans around the globe, drawing a considerable amount of hype along the way. Untrue was an effective crossover hit, pushing past the genre's dance-based foundations to entice audiences with fragile, nervous grooves and emotive R&B reference points. Now that the critical applause and growing global interest has attracted a sizable gaze toward South London's direction, 2008 seems to be even more of a make-or-break year than the last. The scene's heightened exposure and fixed attention has put dubstep in a crucial spot, demanding further innovation and popular appeal from the genre's malleable framework of sub bass and digital swagger.

First at bat for 2008 is dubstep prodigy Beni "Benga" Uthman's debut studio full-length for Tempa, Diary of an Afro Warrior, heralded as one of the most anticipated dubstep records to date. Benga has been at the forefront of the scene since his early teens, learning mixing techniques by frequenting Croyden's Big Apple Records and obsessively sculpting his own dubs with Playstation MiniDiscs and Fruity Loops software. His skills developed along with the dubstep sound, sharpening into a deft synthesis of wobbly-kneed bangers and suave electro swing. At 21, Benga has established himself at the top of the dubstep pile, following the massive drop of last year's infectious single, "Night," sculpted with fellow South London luminary Coki (one half of DMZ operators Digital Mystikz). "Night" was the dubstep hit of 2007, with its tumbling synth riff and bass echo igniting countless club audiences and achieving a similar status to that of 2005's groundbreaking "Midnight Request Line," produced by Benga's childhood pal and closest collaborator, Skream. The widespread clamor for rewinds of "Night" heightened the anticipation of glassy-eyed club goers and froth-mouthed forum lurkers for the full-length, craving a collected home for many of the Benga concoctions that have set fire to dancefloors in recent months.

Thankfully, after all the anticipation and delays from the original October '07 release schedule, Diary doesn't disappoint. Benga's beats are young, hungry, exploding with confidence and breezy flare; carefully assembled with simple, subtle tactics that drive the irresistible rhythms. He flirts a bit more with incorporating techno influences within the dubstep template than many of his contemporaries, but his sound is still amazingly agile. Over the course of Diary, Benga explores deep digital territory, testing the limits of Logic with a bruising low end and hotwired palette of percussion clicks, ranging from the rave-themed sirens of "B4 the Dual," to the rollicking pogo of Benga's first Tempa single, "Crunked Up." One thing's for sure – the man has a innate knack for a hook, tossing in effortless flourishes while the low-end pulses and bobs. From the uber-additive bloops of "Night," to the nonchalant whistles of "Someone 20," he threads a variety of purposeful melodies into the monstrous chug, infectious blip traces and synth convulsions that beg for company on the dancefloor.

I've never been to London, never felt the bass weight of proper club sonics shake the fillings in my teeth, and have never had the pleasure of writhing along with the sweaty masses to a DJ of Benga's rank. Hell, I don't even own the proper home-listening sound system to fully appreciate the depth of dubstep's sub-level throb – my battered Logitech subwoofer wheezes and rattles while the tweeters feed out the high-end thump. And given the fact that many dubstep artists like Benga craft their tunes with massive soundsystem amplification in mind, I do feel a bit slighted to soak in the textures a couple generations down from the source. As dubstep extends its tectonic reach to a growing audience base, it seems essential for the producers in the scene to keep those who aren't blessed with a local club presence in mind by expanding the genre's framework, using the over-arching signifiers of what has come to be labeled "dubstep" to forge new directions in electronic music and maintain a listenership outside the doors of FWD>>.

Luckily, Diary of an Afro Warrior is a prime example of how to draw a successful marriage between club-ready hits and a valuable listening experience. Benga's tunes are compelling enough to remain completely relevant outside smoky South London hotspots, and innovative enough to demand attention through headphone sessions. Then again, maybe I just need to invest in a bigger soundsystem. I hope the neighbors are ready for a dance party.

By Cole Goins

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