Nneka's 2010 debut showcased her ability to render searing social critique as poignant love songs and to rebuild soul music from the ground up, emphasizing both its political roots and African routes. This time, the Nigerian-German songstress tackles all those concepts individually and more deeply. Soul Is Heavy's first half is swollen with dub-doused romantic confessionals that grab the heart and ear as only a good hook can, yet push at the parameters of pop: She begs a lover to "Stay" with feathery, uncomfortably fragile vocals. She crafts a kiss-off anthem from sweeping strings, wah-wah-ing organs and a chorus of quiet repetitions of "Don't even think about it." It's both familiar and disconcerting—and that's before the steel-tongued critique roars back in.
From the title track's hip-hop-edged homage to Nigeria onward, the second half pairs politicized lyrics with playful sonic textures that challenge the boundaries of soul music. Nneka tackles political corruption on "God Knows Why" (featuring Black Thought), a track that artfully blends hip-hop, flamenco, African soukous and funk. Soul is Heavy, in short, questions what soul itself is designed to do. – Rachel Devitt, Google Play
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