What's In An Accent or Dialect? Brian Jeck's Unicorn Album May Have Some Answers

Brian Jeck knows he sounds like Pop Smoke right?

He must, surely. It doesn’t require to need a deep level of self-awareness to realize that. I’ll be honest, it bothers me. It bothers me a lot! Every time, Brian Jeck gets any form of commendation for his raps, definitely well deserving, I can’t seem to overlook how he sounds. Look at me, already giving KapCity a run for his money with the hating.

In a time when Zim hip hop is plagued with an unremitting discourse on originality, American accents and authenticity, I just can’t help but think about this one small thing that will forever be a thorn in my flesh. Or rather, ear. I think my frustrations stem from the fact that I feel there’s so much that Brian can give us. Behind the Pop Smoke ad-libs, all of them (Wey! Huh, etc.), there’s an exciting artist who has been a refreshing alternative to the usual suspects on rotation these days.

But my gripe with the octaves in Brian Jeck’s voice isn’t unique; it’s the same problem I had with Mariachi of the rap trio, MMT. No matter how great his verses would sound on a record, I’d always have an annoying niggling in my ear whispering Jay-Z comparisons. Surely I can’t be the only one bothered by this, I thought. Apparently, it was just me.

But what’s in an accent really, if not a result of socialization, orientation or ethnic plurality? What’s in a dialect if not a custom interpretation of a language inherently foreign to the speaker? What should matter to me is the message being delivered. What should matter to me and the artist in question is authenticity. How or who Brian Jeck sounds like shouldn’t be a detriment to his art. I have come to admit my own prejudice and selective moralism in which I pick and choose what to be outraged by. The truth of the matter is that Brian Jeck has been one of the top 3 hip hop acts in Zimbabwe in 2022 and there isn’t any amount of lozenges or strepsils that can change that.

As an artist who created his own wave and broke into the mainstream landscape through consistency and hard work, Brian Jeck had a task to certify his status in the current crop of Zimbabwean hip-hop acts. Through incredible foresight or coincidence, Brian managed to identify, what they call in academia circles, a “literary gap”. Or at least a variation of it. Before anyone else, particularly the recipient of 2021’s Best Newcomer Award, Voltz JT had taken claim as the leader of drill music. Brian Jeck made sure that his claim to the throne wasn’t lost in translation as he released the critically acclaimed EP entitled “Zim Drill King”. It doesn’t get any more blatant than that.

In 4 solid tracks, Brian Jeck had made a statement not only of his intent to stay in the game but also had defined the path he’d be taking in doing so. As I tried my best to consume the art for what it was and not what it could be, my predisposition grew. This is the same bias I went in with (I have to stop doing this) when presented with Brian Jeck’s debut album, ironically titled “Unicorn”. An album I feel epitomizes one of the core pillars of hip hop and what I feel is the solution to growing Zimbabwean hip hop as a whole; collaborations and their power.

Brian Jeck Unicorn
Brian Jeck's debut album proves that collaborations can push Zim hip hop further

It amazes me how good this album sounds. I didn’t expect to be able to go through all 19 tracks and still play it again. Initially, I feared for myself, as my ears had never been barked at for 53 minutes and 21 seconds. Maybe Brian Jeck knew that; maybe secretly he suspected the album would be hard to swallow with him vocalizing its majority. Of all 19 songs on the album, only 7 have no listed features, and that’s including the intro and outro. By adding a myriad of trusted voices, Unicorn gets some much-needed variety to the monotony of Brian Jeck’s flow.

It also helps that Brian Jeck isn’t too proud to want to do the heavy lifting on the album. On select songs, he only does choruses, on some, just melodies and on some just diminutive verses. The track to best illustrates this is the second track Maths, featuring the omnipresent R.Peels. Besides the song’s loose themes, it typifies one of Brian Jeck’s best and underrated qualities – the ability to seamlessly blend in with any type of artist he teams up with.

If there was a way to describe the Unicorn’s collaborators it’s “Everybody Eats”. Not because of some misguided saviour complex where Brian Jeck plays the role of hood liberator but in a context where everyone on the project came to WORK as if rent was due. No verb, noun or adjective was wasted here – an executive producer’s fantasy dream. Be it Breezie Nukem’s abrasive street-wise verse on Money Changer or Moda’s solemn melodic approach on Maria Musande, the clock was punched in vigorously.

Tha Bees
Tha Bees - one of the standout features on Brian Jeck's Unicorn album

There’s always a level of dread when there are way too many names featured on any body of work. The artist risks thematic inconsistencies and sonic disruptions – Unicorn doesn’t feel that way. It’s hard to trust a man with a lot of friends but it would be disingenuous not to acknowledge how the holistic sound of the album is teeming with an aura of care and friendship. As corny as that may sound, I couldn’t find a better way to describe the features' chemistry without sounding like a Teletubbies screenwriter. Unicorn definitely feels like a product of impeccable timing meeting opportunities and seizing the moment.

It will be a long time before I see hip-hop artists join forces on songs as consistently as I would like. The hip-hop scene in Zimbabwe is too small to cater to the colossally sized egos within it, which is why I feel we can go so much further by holding hands. I cry myself to sleep when I fantasize about possible collaborations in Zim hip hop that haven’t or will probably never happen. I know, I should probably get a life.

In the words of a respected wordsmith, Voltz JT, “Game nderemunhu wese Modheand Brian Jeck, high pitched or not, with an accent or not, just proved it.

This article is another installment of my ongoing "Justify My Bias" series. Read the first article here if you missed it. You can stream Brian Jeck's "Unicorn" album here or anywhere you stream your music

Mukudzei Mlambo

A bit of Romans 7:15 and 90s Hip Hop & RnB. I write words about things that fascinate me in Zim hip hop on my column series "Justify My Bias"

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