Okmalumkoolkat – ‘Holy Oxygen’ (Affine)

The experience of being overwhelmed when listening to music isn’t always necessarily a negative one. A first listen to ‘Holy Oxygen’, the debut solo EP from South African MC Okmalumkoolkat can prove as much. Everything about the record is inclined towards causing sensory overload; from the myriad unexpected references delivered in his unfamiliar voice, to the non-linear, unorthodox production from Austrian collaborators Cid Rim and The Clonious. Hell, you’d even be forgiven for taking an armful of attempts to fully comprehend his name. Despite this dizzying sonic cocktails and the muddled providence of the package as a whole, ‘Holy Oxygen’ stands tall a product of the beautiful confusion that can often result from our post-globalisation era.

‘Holy Oxygen’ may feel akin to a bolt from the blue, Okmalumkoolkat is by no means a new name. Some may remember him as one of the key voices on LV’s African inspired album ‘Sebenza’ from 2012, whilst keen fans of contemporary South African sounds will know him as one half of Dirty Parrafin. There are traces of these past works on here, although the presence of Cid Rim and The Clonius pushes the Johannesburg resident into new distinct territory.

Opener ‘Allblackblackkat’ is a decent example of what follows across the EP, its beat pulsing with drum work that slightly nods to South African styles like Kwaito and Shangaan Electro as a fulsome sub purrs underneath. Lyrically meanwhile, Okmalumkoolkat chucks it all in plus the kitchen sink, with allusions to Harry Potter, Jon Bon Jovi and Peter Tosh the pick of the bunch. These namedrops for Western listeners would make him your run of the mill stream of consciousness MC, were they not meshed with a streak of South African street knowledge and delivered in an accent that rolls between Afrikaans and Zulu by the syllable.

‘Fancy Footwork’ unsurprisingly ups the ante with the drums, as Okmalumkoolkat responds accordingly – the resulting tune helping to answer the question of what Chicago’s Teklife would sound like relocated to the townships. Part swagged out contemporary Rap and part international club track, as a whole its nothing if not energetic. The title track meanwhile throws in chords and and claps into its hodge podge song structure, with the vocal careering through pitch changes as 8 bit flourishes sprout up out of nowhere throughout and a bunch of other things that aren’t included in my ‘Music Journalist’s Lexicon’ happen. Rounding things off, ‘Ijusi’ finds beats and vocals combining more effectively than anywhere else on the EP, with Okmalumkoolkat communicating a familiar Hip-Hop tone – ‘drugged out menace’, albeit in his own style. Gut punching bass drops and Casio synth breakdowns compliment his jumping, nonsenical flow for four or so minutes that constitute the most focused work of all three artists.

‘Holy Oxygen’ as a whole isn’t an easily digestible collection, and much of the foibles and nuances of the tracks are lost in the deluge of ideas raining forth from your speakers. However in its madcap energy lies its charm, and perseverance with this allows you to hear these wildly creative artists at work and in full flow. Although many may conceivably not ‘like’ this record, the thoughtful listener will surely appreciate how fortunate we are to live in a time when it can exist.

‘Holy Oxygen’ is out now on Affine. Buy it here.

Christian Murphy