Riding off the hype of his critically acclaimed “Off the Strength”, UK vibesman Lord Apex joins forces with producer El Lif Beatz to deliver 30 minutes of hazy, Brazilian-infused stoner rap.
Lord Apex, born Shaeem Wright, has mentioned his contempt for being put in one singular genre. His previous projects have put him in the arena of a UK rap scene that has emerged in the past few years, amongst peers such as Finn Foxell, Ashbeck, and ayrtn. Despite this disdain, Lord Apex has proved his status in lo-fi rap, with tracks such as ‘Em3’ and ‘Vintage Garms’ propelling him into stardom. Rightfully so, this genre can be described as convoluted, with the same subject matter and identical beats being recycled time and time again. So, does Joga Bonita place Lord Apex outside the box he refuses to be trapped inside?
Joga Bonita, as described by Lord Apex and El Lif, is “the concept of returning football to its high and honourable state… two simple words that on literal translation mean “play beautiful” but are left for each and every football player to define it with their own style”. With this footnote framing the album, let's dive into the project.
Opening with ‘Mission Statement’, we are immediately transported to the woozy world that Lord Apex creates time and time again. The short opener acts as an entrance to the single track ‘Ronaldinho’, which once again alludes to the themes of getting high, describing the desire to “speak some wisdom into clouds”. As for production, El Lif excels in weaving Brazilian influence into tracks, with blaring trumpets blending seamlessly with drumbeats to provide a great soundscape to the somewhat sub-par lyrics.
Moving into ‘Hype and Chill’, another fan favourite thus far, Lord Apex delivers a catchy chorus and elevates the hazy atmosphere to that of higher energy. This burst of energy is welcomed with open arms as the preceding tracks, though solid, kind of blend into one. As the project is so short, Apex has precious time to prove that Joga Bonita consists of tracks that live up to his older, acclaimed hits.
‘La Cicade’ also helps to sustain the Brazilian influence that is expected throughout, with a guest spot from Akira Presidente being the standout moment. Hitting the halfway mark of the project, ‘Stress Free’ is a 2-minute middling of the album, not delivering anything overly impressive. The lyrics feel lazy whilst he lets the production do the work. This then takes us into the thematic interlude of “San Paulo”, consisting of a monologue that attempts to build the overarching Joga Bonita narrative. Not to be mistaken, these tracks sound great – it just isn’t anything we haven’t heard from the rapper before.
The penultimate track “Money To Get”, opens with the rapper stating “we about to switch it up on them for real” – but why are we switching it up at the end of the album? From this point, Apex actually starts rapping, whilst the rest of the album sees him drifting through until this point. It’s a solid track whilst maintaining the Brazilian influence with the feature verse from Fembem. It seems a shame that this confidence comes so late in the project, as his pen and flow work effortlessly on the infectious beat. The title track “Joga Bonito”, also follows this precedent. An eerie flute paired with heavy 808s creates a perfect backing for the catchy chorus as Apex embodies into one track what the project should have consisted of throughout.
Joga Bonita is not a bad album – despite what I may have conveyed. Packed into 30 minutes, it is a great effort of delivering something different which can be hard in the field of lo-fi rap. However, the sequencing could have elevated this project to higher heights. The closing tracks encapsulate the world of UK x Brazilian fusion that is somewhat expected from the album – from the title to the footnote to the lead single. More than anything, it’s an easy listen, which does not require strenuous concentration and Apex, once again, provides an enjoyable, chill listening experience for fans.