I close my eyes. The sun beams warm rays in diagonal lines across my face as I reach my arm out the open car window and press my hand against the breeze. I turn up ZenSoFly’s Sunflowers and nod my head along with the beat.
In reality, it’s winter and as I write this, snow coats the railroad tracks outside my apartment window. Only through Sunflowers have I been transported back to this warm little slice of summer.
If you read my inaugural piece for Durham Beat you may know that rap and hip-hop are, admittedly, my least explored genres. I like a good Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, or Post Malone radio bop just as much as the next millennial, but it’s rare that I would dive into this genre on my own.
As with all things of course, there are exceptions. There’s Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar, and Childish Gambino and Khalid, and as nerdy as it is, the soundtrack to Hamilton — all in my regularly scheduled Monday-Friday desk rotation. And now, there’s ZenSoFly.
I was introduced to Durham-based artist ZenSoFly at Pinhook’s 10th birthday celebration back in November. In the weeks following the show, I had her Sunflowers EP blasting through my headphones at work as I bopped my head along to the beat and blasted through emails.
Sunflowers is the perfect soundtrack to get.shit.done, but to limit my review to that one purpose would be an injustice to the many layers of this EP. Much like its namesake, Sunflowers is bright and intricate, a beautiful display of ZenSoFly’s talents. This artist can rap, sing, write, and from what I saw, she can put on one hell of a performance.
Depending on where you listen to it, you may have a different experience with Sunflowers. The SoundCloud version starts with “Drip”. However, on Spotify, it starts with “Life at a Funeral.” For the purpose of this review I’ll explore the Spotify version, as ZenSoFly’s team has confirmed that it the Spotify track order is the intended order.
On Spotify, Sunflowers begins with the chimes of an organ, indicating the start of “Life at a Funeral, a track that offers a great beat, but is honestly a bit of a sleeper compared to its successors.
ZenSoFly finds her groove on the second track, “Getting Started.” My second favorite on the EP, this track shows off Zen’s ability to write a catchy hit that will stick in your head for days. As she repeats the lyrics “and I’m just getting started” I can’t help but feel that this song is prophetic in a way. But it’s the soft instrumental ending of this track that makes me feel a certain kind of way I can’t quite articulate…
Immediately following the “Waves Interlude”, Zen offers what may be the catchiest song of the EP, “Drip”. The verses of this track give her the opportunity to show off her rapping ability on top of the appropriate background sounds of dripping. And then there’s the chorus, which I’ve found myself humming and singing over and over again. Drip drip drop, drip drip drip drop. It’s incredibly satisfying.
For the last two tracks “Culprit” and “Something Special”, Zen slows it down a bit. “Culprit” has a nice beat and some quick lyrics, but it’s the breakdown that queues up the final track in the last minute that’s the real show-stealer.
Sunflowers ends with my personal favorite, “Something Special”. The track opens with an unexpected guitar riff reminiscent of 80s stadium rock, followed by an intro verse that’s repeated throughout the chorus of the track. But it’s the lyrics of the first true verse, and the sweet, sultry way in which she delivers them that really capture me on this track. “You got that ice cream that sweet tea that chicken with the corn on the cob \\ you got that visine that make me see so clear when I’m in the dark.” The imagery she uses here is what places me right in the middle of the scene I described at the opening of this piece. When a song can transport you to another place, then it is truly something special.
When it comes to albums, especially in genres I don’t listen to often, I have to listen to them several times to really form an opinion. I often have an initial listen, sit on it for a day or so then come back for a second and maybe even third listen before I can truly say whether I like it.
After several weeks of listening to Sunflowers, I think it’s safe to say that I enjoy this EP. I’d even go as far as to say I can add ZenSoFly to the regular rotation of hip-hop artists I’d list as favorites. But in all honesty, it’s not fair to box her into one, or even two, genres. Sunflowers spans hip-hop, dance, pop, and even briefly dips into a bit of rock. Personally, I can’t wait to see where ZenSoFly ventures to next.
Cover photo courtesy of ZenSoFly.