Azet & Zuna - Super Plus (Review)

Martin_Canine
AZET & ZUNA
Super Plus
★★☆☆☆

A bizarre world between summer hits and gun violence

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So, here it is. The much anticipated collaboration between Azet and Zuna, two rappers from Germany who both appeared out of nowhere last year and rocketed to superstardom in no time, in Azet’s case even leading to a number one album. Super Plus naturally continued the string of success, having spawned six top ten hits in Germany and - surprise! - having topped both the German and Austrian charts. But is it really worth all the hype? Listening to the outcome, the answer is a pretty clear “meh”.

While there’s technically nothing wrong with Super Plus, or the two rappers performing it, it also fails to establish a truly distinctive personality. Like many current German hip hop albums, the music on it is a mix between the trap and Afrotrap styles, the latter being a subgenre originating from France that adds strong dancehall elements to the trap formula of autotune choruses, 808 bass and rapid hi-hats. Sometimes, these elements can make the songs feel livelier, or even somewhat epic, sometimes it just feels like the forced summer hit version of hip hop. Super Plus is quite secure in its production and knows exactly where the border of “pleasant” and “too much” is. The beats are laid back and inviting to nod along, and are on a very professional, international level.

But comparing the work to other contributions of the genre that were just as commercially massive - Raf Camora’s & Bonez MC’s Palmen aus Plastik 2, Capital Bra’s Berlin lebt and especially Mero’s superb Ya Hero Ya Mero - the album appears bland and lifeless, like a bunch of stereotypes thrown in a blender. It’s like they took the common demeanor of every successful Afrotrap album of the past two years and added nothing new to it, instead closely recreating everything others established. The outcome may have a relaxed vibe that makes them a nice soundtrack for a party in the summer.

But again, like on Azet’s 2018 debut album Fast Life, there’s this odd disconnection between the tone of the lyrics and the sound of the music. This can be heard best on the hit song Fragen. Lots of drugs being transported, pistols being fired, threats to throw bottles at a person… all to a club ready beat with holiday vibes that would also fit a Latin hit. Drug trafficking, in graphic detail, makes a large part of the content of Super Plus, with all the killings and violence that comes along with it. Pam Pam is quite the groovy jam… about killing people with a gun. The rapid shot sound effects to the beat always come across like a parody. Then comes the top ten hit Kamehameha, one of the most melodious, brightest songs of the album. And the Dragonball reference in the title sounds quite promising that this will be a more fun brag rap song where they just go full Son Goku mode on their haters. But no… the “kamehameha” refers to their guns, of course, with which they kill those who are after their property.

Lelele (named after an adlib established by Capital Bra) is arguably the best song on the album. It is one of the few songs that are more on the trap end of Afrotrap, which allows them to break out of the radio pop territory for a bit and embrace something a bit darker, and they actually make the best out of it and refer to surprisingly deep topics such as the hunger suffered from that lead to this lifestyle, and a near death experience that occured to Azet. It’s nowhere near conscious rap, but it adds that bit of background needed to make them more than just archetypical gangsters. And the sad thing is, this song shows they could have easily done it better.

So… what is it that makes similar albums by other artists work better? Capital Bra and Mero are more about flexing and bragging than living a serious gangsta lifestyle, they are positively more cartoonish and casual. They perfectly fit on both the light and fun Afrotrap jams and the darker trap bangers due to their overall sound wanting to be enjoyable rather than actually street oriented. Capital Bra’s 5 Songs in einer Nacht is a prime example of how it’s done right. It’s poppy, catchy and fun - and it is about drug trafficking, too. But Capital Bra never wants to sound like a ruthless thug on it. He’s just that young, carefree guy who does this illegal stuff and makes fun of the police that just won’t catch him, and there’s a reason he also calls himself Joker Bra. This is a combination that works, as the tone is upbeat and still has this whole criminal theme. As for Raf Camora and Bonez MC: they take their hustling lifestyle just as serious as Azet and Zuna, sing even more and include even more dancehall elements. Heck, their two record-breaking collaboration albums are even called Palmen aus Plastik (“palm trees out of plastic”) 1 and 2. But listen to the beats they pick: the music is so huge, overproduced and almost score-like at parts, that in fact, it adds even more to the atmosphere rather than destroying it, in a way similar the synthie soundtrack of Scarface works. Their vibe adds an exotic flavor, but in a way that you feel you went somewhere you don’t belong in a country you’ve never been to before rather than somewhere nice and sunny.

What Super Plus has in store for us is a bunch of pop songs that you actually want to go out and party to them, while their main stars portray violent mobsters, stripped of any irony. And that combination doesn’t work out nearly as much as they probably thought it would, although individually, both elements have the potential to be something bigger.

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