The music industry’s great collectives all have distinctive sounds, an unmistakable blending of notes that are easily recognized upon first listen. Of course, there’s the undeniable Philadelphia sound made famous by groups like Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. In hip-hop, The RZA created the Wu-Tang sound, with its warped organ loops and off-kilter drum programming. The Foreign Exchange, with producer Nicolay and vocalist Phonte Coleman at the helm, have also concocted its own sound — a mature, yet light-hearted vibe that began with Connected and continued with the Grammy nominated Leave It All Behind. Now there’s SunStorm, the brainchild of producer Zo! that fits effortlessly into the stable’s already impressive rotation.
While Zo’s last full-length album — Freelance — stood tall as a respectable instrumental project, it does not compare with his new recording. On his previous project, released in 2006, Zo! mostly went solo with its production and included only one vocalist to sing on two of the album’s fifteen songs. SunStorm, however, is a full scale tour de force, as Phonte either wrote, sang, or mixed half of the album’s 12 tracks. And, while Freelance is mainly a low-key project made for easy listening, SunStorm is a grand compilation of tunes that influence you to groove, think or make a baby or two.
As Zo! puts it on his “Musical Architecture” blog, SunStorm is the biggest album of his career, which aptly explains the project’s enormity. On the title track, Zo! creates a rich, mid-tempo groove over which Phonte and Foreign Exchange collaborator YahZarah sing about the purity of new love. “This Could Be The Night”, which features Eric Roberson, Darien Brockington and Rapper Big Pooh, is a grown-up track suitable for the Happy Hour spot, while “Make Luv 2 Me” is an epic 10-minute session in which Monica Blaire croons about sex with “intention and purpose.”
With SunStorm, Zo! confidently steps into the limelight and establishes himself as a force. The Detroit/Silver Spring hybrid not only provides a flawless musical backdrop for his friends to sing about love and freedom, but he shows the music industry that one can succeed on great music without gimmicks. A new sun has risen on Zo’s already established career.
4 out of 5