“Come, let us be truthful.”
During an interview last year, recording artist Nneka said she “didn’t want to be a star. I just want to get my word out.” But if there’s any justice in the world, Nneka will be a star in American R&B and hip-hop circles. The product of an Igbo Nigerian father and a German mother (she was raised in Nigeria, but moved to Hamburg at the age of 19), Nneka’s background story is unique. But on her first American release, “Concrete Jungle” (a collection of songs from her first two albums “Victim of Truth” and “No Longer at Ease”), it’s the music that shines front and center.
Dealing with the everyman topics of love of self, the struggle of relationships, the battle between right and wrong and the problems of the world, “Concrete Jungle” is a combination of hip-hop, R&B, funk, reggae, jazz, folk and all-around good soul music.
“Mind vs. Heart” strolls along with a mid-tempo, programmed hip-hop groove and acoustic guitars only to emerge as a tour de force at the end with syncopated live drums and Nneka’s wail of joy, pain and triumph. “We must be strong!” she sings, her vocals adding to the already powerful musical score.
“You sold your soul,” says Nneka on “Heartbeat,” speaking of an unknown figure that has given in to the ways of the world and defines itself by society’s definition of success. It’s filled with piano stabs, canned strings, punchy bass lines and bustling drums that ring as a call to arms. Nnkea reminds us of life’s important things when she makes statements like, “You can’t take my experience away/You can’t take my soul away” while letting the money and material things pass her by.
Overall, “Concrete Jungle” explains to stateside audiences why Nneka has earned praise from various critics overseas and showcases her strengths as a songwriter and arranger (she produced or co-produced every song on the album). She takes the past three decades of Black music and re-creates it in her own image.
Even though Talib Kweli wrote an entire song asking Lauryn Hill to come back to recording music, someone equally as capable of filling the huge void left by the former Fugee’s Grammy-winner was a plane flight away. Nneka has landed in America and her music needs to be heard. Head up. Eyes open. Ears open. Soul open. She deserves your attention.
As Nneka says on the track “Africans”: “Wake up world. Stop sleeping.”