Rema – HEIS

A honest and emphatic return...

The rise of afrobeats – and its myriad offshoots – as a truly global force is one of 21st century’s defining music impulses. Yet shattering the glass ceiling can present a few problems – after all, how do you retain control of the lens your art is viewed through? Take Rema. The star packed out the O2 Arena in London, but visuals that referenced beliefs and traditions from his native Benin City were misconstrued. As such, new album ‘HEIS’ represents an attempt to tap back into his foundation, to re-assert his core values.

11 tracks, no filler. Only a handful of guests, and all of them close to Rema. ‘HEIS’ feels like his true testament, his autobiography, unfiltered and true. ‘MARCH AM’ is a blasting opener, a statement of muscular ambition that refuses to cowtow to expectations. ‘AZAMAN’ ratchets the energy up even further, while the delirious ‘HEHEHE’ merges braggadocio to wicked afrobeats production to create something infectious but also unsettling – Rema wants you on the edge of your seat, permanently.

‘YAYO’ dials it down a bit, allowing some soulful aspects to creep in, while the mighty ‘BENIN BOYS’ is a crucial message of cultural self-worth – refusing to shy from harsh truths, Rema nonetheless emerges emboldened, backed by Shallipopi.

Title cut ‘HEIS’ has a bold, almost cinematic arrangement, one informed by the traditions that run deep in the communities that birthed Rema. There’s also some incredible low-end, too – the diasporic connections between Benin City, American hip-hop, and UK club music run deep.

‘OZEBA’ is all machine gun snares and purring vocals, a work of total immediacy. ‘WAR MACHINE’ however feels like a work of mourning, with Rema backed by fellow breakout ODUMODUBLVCK.

Closing with the mighty ‘VILLAIN’ and the electrifying, wholly anthemic ‘NOW I KNOW’, this is a record that demands you attention with its whiplash velocity. Distinct from his 2022 debut ‘Rave & Roses’, this feels uncompromising, and new. ‘HEIS’ is the work of an artist emboldened, and undimmed.

8/10

Words: Robin Murray

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