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The new voice in R&B: Zacari

| Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Cristina Interiano | The Observer

The impact of Kendrick Lamar’s “DAMN.” cannot be understated. The 2017 album spawned two hit singles — the brutal “DNA.” and the catchy “HUMBLE.” —  featuring the most iconic cover art of the last decade — which will be recreated for years to come — and won the Pulitzer Prize for music, becoming the first non-classical or jazz album to receive the honor. It also helped launch an artist from relative obscurity to semi-popularity.

Strictly speaking, “DAMN.” was pure Kendrick. Only three other artists appeared on the album: the acclaimed U2, the goddess Rihanna and the unknown Zacari. The young and mysterious rhythm and blues artist known as Zacari appeared on “LOVE.,” flaunting a silky-smooth voice that caught the attention of listeners. And Lamar’s co-sign of Zacari didn’t stop with “DAMN.” Zacari was also featured on the wildly popular, Kendrick-curated “Black Panther: The Album” and joined Lamar on the California-based label Top Dawg Entertainment.

Leading up to the release of his debut solo project, Zacari had yet to prove himself on his own — without the aid of the generation’s best rapper. That debut solo project though, titled “Run Wild Run Free,” proves more than just Zacari’s ability to entertain on his own, it proves him as as one of the best new voices in R&B, a young talent with potential.

On “Run Wild Run Free,” Zacari captures the modern youth spirit in a way that only a budding new artist could. It’s a feat that R&B newcomer Khalid accomplished on his debut album “American Teen,” which included anthems “Young Dumb & Broke” and “Location.” Just the name of the EP — “Run Wild Run Free” — sounds like it would make the perfect Instagram caption when combined with some nature emojis.

“Young and invincible, young and invincible / Riding around the town, bumping our music loud / Emptying bank accounts,” Zacari sings on the aptly named “Young & Invincible.” After “Can Lil Yachty please come to the principal’s office?” rings out on an imaginary PA system, Lil Yachty joins in on the track with a similar defiant, “stick it to the man” message: “I’d probably be broke if I was listening to my principal / They try to push college but diplomas ain’t the principle.”

On “Don’t Trip,” the clear front-runner for most popular song on the EP, Zacari flashes his R&B sensibilities. His voice glides over a laid-back, drum-heavy beat with ease as he vents about his relationship. The track is reminiscent of a good Miguel record, like “Waves” or “Simple Things,” and stands out as a genuine hit.

The California artist also follows the current R&B trend of blending rap and singing to create a hybrid style. On “Ten Outta Ten,” he uses a lengthy verse to offset an upbeat chorus while raving about the perfect girl who has entered his life. While his use of the phrase “Modern day Romeo, modern day Juliet” is a bit trite, the track still radiates with the energy of love.

The biggest thing missing from “Run Wild Run Free” is Zacari’s own imprint. Although he does capture key elements of modern R&B, he doesn’t bring much originality to the EP, and it’s easy to want more from such a talented artist. Nevertheless, on “Run Wild Run Free,” Zacari clearly shows that he has the skills, and the voice, to develop into a prominent R&B artist.

  • Artist: Zacari
  • Album: “Run Wild Run Free”
  • Label: Top Dawg Entertainment
  • Favorite tracks: “Ten Outta Ten,” “Don’t Trip,” “Young & Invincible”
  • If you like: Miguel, The Weeknd, Khalid
  • Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

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About Ryan Israel

Ryan is the Scene Editor. He doesn't know how he got here or what he's doing — just like everyone else. Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryizzy.

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