You might know Detroit native Jay Daniel from his prior work with electronic dance labels like Theo Parrish’s Sound Signature and Kyle Hall’s Wild Oats. But on his first LP, Broken Knowz, Daniel widens his aesthetic boundaries. Though a slew of bangers might’ve translated to mass appeal, Daniel instead opts for graceful experimentation. The result is nine percussion-driven tracks steeped in traditional African musical forms, layered over contemporary styles like Juke and Footwork.
Recorded largely from acoustic instruments at home, Broken Knowz has a lived-in quality and gentle, introverted phrasing. “Paradise Valley,” named for the once-robust Black entertainment district on Detroit’s East Side that was wiped out in the name of “urban renewal” in the ‘60s—is stripped down to a doubled rim click, bass, lean keys, and the chime of a glass bowl. “Niiko” shuffles brilliantly, melding the polyrhythms of the Somalian ceremonial dance to which it refers with the pulsing of deep bass frequencies. “$hake It Down” is another hybrid: fevered drum programming and machine-gun bass tempos operating inside a minimal framework.
But the album’s greatest feat is how simple and direct the songs seem. Even as he’s contextualizing the work of African innovators like Mulatu Astatke, Amara Touré, or Francis Bebey, Daniel is also boiling that work back down to warm, organic root sounds. The resulting songs register as both deeply personal and deeply meaningful. Broken Knowz is a stunner, both in rhythmic invention and in expressive poignancy.