Why Gorillaz’ ‘Humanz’ Is the Most 2017 Album Possible
1. It’s diverse.
In 2017, inclusion and cultural diversity have become super-important issues in mainstream culture, and Gorillaz reflected that on Humanz by making their most multicultural LP ever. Where else but on a Gorillaz album would you hear disco heavyweight Grace Jones and new-school rap favorite Danny Brown on the same record? The full list of collaborators represent humanz from all walks of life, many different genders, sexual orientations, ages, races and parts of the globe, from Black American rappers to dancehall MCs, queer icons and badass women who have empowered people across generations.
2. It’s post-genre.
Listening to Humanz isn’t like listening to other albums. Each song is like its own mini-album that contains multiple stories, styles and voices that overlap in a perfectly aligned and very complicated network. And that’s what makes it the perfect metaphor for listening to music on the internet! In each song, the listener flicks through a bunch of different genres as if they were skimming through tracks or listening to an eclectic playlist or Pandora station. A perfect example of this experience is “Submission (feat. Danny Brown & Kelela)”, which is an 8-bit indie disco, an R&B ballad and a freaked-out rap cut all in one. The song—and Humanz as a whole—is not one genre; it’s many. And that feels exactly how music ought to sound right now.
3. It’s empowering.
Many of the tracks on Humanz explore dark realities of the world our species has created. Still, the overall message is about individual empowerment and being yourself. That’s what all the mysterious interludes on Humanz are all about: accepting yourself, daring to be different and facing the evils in our society. For instance, “The Non-Conformist Oath” states, “I promise to be different! I promise to be unique! I promise not to repeat things other people say!” Throw in seriously strong tracks like “Ascension” and “We Got The Power”, and it’s pretty obvious that Humanz directly asks all of us to take a stand against the powers that be, which is more relevant now than ever before.
4. It’s woke.
The first song we heard from Humanz was “Hallelujah Money (feat. Benjamin Clementine)”, and it appeared the day before the American election. Gorillaz mastermind Murdoc explained that “In these dark times, we all need someone to look up to. Me. That’s why I’m giving you this new Gorillaz song, a lightning bolt of truth in a black night.” That extremely Murdoc message also fits for the whole album, which gets pretty dark at times. Just look at the spaced-out nihilism of “Saturnz Barz” or the absurdity of “Sex Murder Party (feat. Jamie Principle & Zebra Katz)”. The refrain on “Sex Murder Party”—”Dissolve the keys in the seas of your priorities”—doesn’t shy away from the fact that we are all living in what feels like a particularly crazy and scary era.
5. It incorporates trap beats.
Even Kendrick Lamar—whose last album was an 80-minute jazz concept piece—traded live bass for Mike WiLL Made-It’s signature hi-hats and booming 808s on his new single “HUMBLE.”. From the delirious skitter of album opener “Ascension (feat. Vince Staples)” to the narcotic lull of smash single “Saturnz Barz (feat. Popcaan)”, Humanz is laced with the crisp sizzle of trap beats, and that’s one reason why it feels so fresh today.
6. It brings the past into the present.
Listen closely to the tracks on Humanz, and you’ll hear echoes of the past. “Strobelite (feat. Peven Everett)” is like listening to Funkadelic for the first time. “Carnival (feat. Anthony Hamilton)” shows what it would be like if Run DMC made beats for R&B singers. “Andromeda (feat. D.R.A.M.)” is literally named after an ’80s UK soul club. “We Got The Power (feat. Jehnny Beth)” makes contemporary riot grrrl-style punk-y ’80s new wave. Throw these into the mix with the aforementioned trap beats and futurist hip-hop bombast of “Let Me Out (feat. Mavis Staples & Pusha T)”, and the effect is actually not a trip through time, but a flattening of it into one single moment in which all events are experienced at once. Grace Jones, an artist whose heyday was the ’70s and ’80s, fits in perfectly on this record, and that just proves our point. There’s no need for nostalgia anymore. Just take the best bits and go!
7. It sends a powerful political message.
Gospel plays a huge role in Humanz, and that’s not an accident. It’s part of Humanz‘s commentary on the renewed vigor in conversations about race and equality. The vast majority of the album’s collaborators were pulled from the many corners of the African diaspora, and that sends a powerful message. This is an album that celebrates blackness like Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. and To Pimp A Butterfly have in recent years. Gospel, hip-hop, soul, funk, house—these are mediums that convey a message that Gorillaz stands against the world’s racial injustice.
Published April 27, 2017.