It’s often said, quoting the Bible, that there’s nothing new under the sun. Perhaps this is true. If so, do the arts persist out of sheer complacency, each new generation craving its own icons and anthems, and we hang on instead waiting for those occasional transformational figures who do open new vistas in human expression? No. It isn’t true and art persists, even thrives, when placed in the hands of performers capable of refitting long-standing musical forms to fit their personalities. Elz Bentley has picked up hip-hop music and comes bursting out of the Lexington, Kentucky music scene with a surefooted sense of self. He has his influences, as all performers and artists do, but transmutes their lessons into his own songs. Performers such as this are the standard bearers of the genre moving forward and tomorrow’s household names.
He’s tackling his releases the right way. It isn’t just a single or collection released with accompanying press materials. Instead, Bentley has a deep interest in his visual presentation. His video for “Buddha”, likely filmed on location in his native Lexington, has top-drawer professional qualities. Evidence of the DIY nature underlying Bentley’s project is in short supply hearing “Buddha” — whatever financial limitations Bentley might experience don’t reflect on the video. It is a first rate production in every respect.
The synthesizer punctuating the track is my favorite part of the music. These forceful musical strikes always hit at the right time and the accompanying percussion track makes a good partner for the song. “Buddha” has genuine physicality, but it is never overpowering. It does take over soon into the track, however, and listeners willing to hang with its groove will be happy to allow it to steer them towards its inevitable conclusion.
The musical mood of the performance varies from much modern hip-hop. There’s a common frame of reference, naturally, but Bentley has a different take on the matter with the way he darkens the overall sound and incorporates a near-retro soul or R&B vibe into his work. These differences, however, do not diminish the song’s potential commercial impact, but they do give him a signature stylistic touch shared by few of his peers and contemporaries.
His lyrics are another reason he stands out. Bentley writes from a very personal place with well-modulated fluency, never laying too many words on listeners, and uses some wonderfully percussive language. It’s never predictable. He isn’t relating some sort of ground-breaking experience, so many listeners will relate to the writing, but they bear the idiosyncratic mark of his own life. You can’t help but like a lyric capable of connecting the personal with the universal. I think it is safe to assume Elz Bentley will be around for many years to come. He doesn’t put on airs, his brief career already demonstrates his willingness to work hard and has talent to burn. “Buddha” is the latest example of his upward trajectory and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we hear again from Bentley before the year closes.