After birthing legendary indie shredders Monotonix, Israel offers the world yet another musical gift: Soulico, a crew of four Tel-Aviv DJs with an impressive library of rare Middle Eastern folk and disco vinyl. Last October they put forth their debut album, Exotic on the Speaker, an energetic amalgam of hip-hop, dancehall, and traditional Mid East music.
Twelve of thirteen tracks feature MCs and singers from all over the world including scores of Israeli hip-hop artists; Panamanian dancehall maestro MC Zulu; Ghostface Killah; underground rappers Lyrics Born, Pigeon John, and Del the Funky Homosapien; and Rye Rye, M.I.A.’s streetwise teenaged protégé from Baltimore. Although almost half of the lyrics are in Hebrew, the language barrier isn’t much of a problem; “Pitom Banu 2020” hasn’t one word of English, yet it is easily one of the album’s most appealing songs.
The first song, “El Nur,” commences with a shout of “Salaam alaikum” (peace unto you in Arabic), and then Ghostface Killah delivers a verse in his classic Wu Tang cadence. The overall thesis of his rap: I’m super tight, I’m hard, don’t fuck with me. It’s hubristic and unoriginal, yet charming as always. The beat that backs him consists of standard electronic drums, rapid pluckings of some foreign-sounding string instrument, and a loud, buzzy synth line. The rest of the song features Hebrew rapping and singing (no idea what they’re saying…but it sounds neat?). Each collaborator pulls his or her own weight, making the song fantastic as a whole.
Unfortunately, some of Soulico’s musical guests are not so worthy. For example, on the eighth track titled “Come Back,” Onili, an Israeli pop diva, sings in a breathy, overly sexy voice. But it’s not sexy. It’s just frightening. She and a couple other featured artists whose performances add no value to the album ought not to have been included in the otherwise awesome debut project.
But the most incredible song of all, and the most Israeli in sound, is the title track, “Exotic on the Speaker,” featuring Rye Rye. A cheap-sounding synthetic orchestra pounds thrice, a Klezmer fiddle sings a folky phrase, and a drum machine creates an intricately detailed beat. Rye Rye fills her two minutes and forty-three seconds with rhymes about nightclubs and parties in her sincere and youthful voice. Inclusion of Rye Rye on the album was surely a good call.
But for their part, the DJs of Soulico (Sabbo, Rob, Shimmy Sonic, and Wido by name) mix and produce a superb album. Perhaps their greatest virtue is their transcendence of the confines of genre. “Queen of Hearts” is an ultra-catchy dancehall reggae song, “Politrix” could easily be a song off of Beck’s Midnight Vultures, and “DaraboukaTron” sounds like a bunch of robots on acid partaking in a tribal drum circle. They’re a dynamic team, Soulico, a talent that is exciting to hear regardless of your culture, homeland, or language.