Rock is no longer #1 in the world – that position has been dutifully taken by hip-hop, and its most intriguing young stars have taken the role of rockstars without question. Enter Elz Bentley, a humble rapper from Kentucky whose new single “Buddha” is raising an eyebrow of two in the American underground this summer. “Buddha” might not have the dazzling tech nor the over the top cinematic effect of what you’d hear in a mainstream rap song this July, but it’s nevertheless possessing a star quality that makes it feel like a dark, angst-ridden foray into a world of danger, introspection and contemplation.

Despite the intense rigidity of this groove, Elz Bentley’s vocal style is very relaxed in this single, allowing for us to appreciate both the structure of the beat and the way he’s straddling it with ease. Using this contrast to yield a lot of additional tension before we ever reach the halfway point in the song, Bentley rejects the very notion of taking us in a more postmodern direction and instead weighs down this track with as much of an organic punch as he can muster (and, I must say, it’s nothing to gawk at by any critical measurement).

This bassline is a bit underwhelming if you’re looking for that conventionally unadulterated swing that a lot of people associate with old school hip-hop, but for what I’m trying to hear in a modern rap song, it’s as big as it needs to be and not a bit more (always a good thing in my book). You can’t have a bloated bass part in “Buddha” if you want to emphasize the steady vocal delivery Bentley is sharing with us, and therefore it was quite wise to keep it out of the mix altogether in this instance.

Which brings me to the next ultra-meticulous element in this single: the master mix. Squeaky clean and removed from the unwanted noise, props and innate bells and whistles that seem to be coming standard in a lot of the indie hip-hop I’m spinning out of Atlanta this month, “Buddha” has a mix that pumps up all of the important qualities here – vocal, tandem bass-percussion attack – and amplifies the silence in between the instrumentation as to create a brooding effect in the background. Elz Bentley knows a thing or two about how to compose something evocative without getting too elaborate with his concepts, and that’s a feature a lot of his contemporaries would spend a lifetime trying to perfect.

I’m not usually much for mumble rap, and though this is an alternative strain of that subgenre, “Buddha” is too stone cold for me to resist right now. Elz Bentley comes in strong and doesn’t stop hitting us with the good stuff until we cross the finish line in this track, and for a season that has been missing someone with his moxie, this all-new single couldn’t be arriving on record store shelves at a better time. 2020 has been a unique year, and tracks like this one are giving it the unique soundtrack it deserves.

Michael Rand

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