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ALBUM REVIEW: nafla 'natural high'

cover of nafla's K Hip-Hop album 'natural high'
'natural high' album cover. Source: Genius


On August 31, 2021, nafla released his first full-length album in over a year, titled 'natural high'. It was teased just a few days before its release via social media, and the sudden announcement of a new album came as a pleasant surprise to many fans. Monumentally for the Korean rapper, it marks his first release since his 2020 exit from MKIT RAIN, the rap crew and label that he formed with fellow rappers Loopy and BLOO. While it signals a new beginning under RAVI’s GROOVL1N label, long-time fans of the rapper will be able to appreciate that he manages to retain all the elements that helped him rise to fame on this album. Inclusive of features from some of the greats of K Hip-Hop such as Paloalto and The Quiett as well as JUSTHIS and Chancellor, 'natural high' sees nafla deliver some of his most versatile work to date.

The thirteen-track album gets off to a fiery start with the song 'mobb tang'. nafla begins by cheekily referring to spending another day "puffing and passing" while a sample from Wu-Tang Clan's 'Bring Da Ruckus' plays out in the background. Immediately, the listener gets a sense of the strong boom-bap influence that is to come on this album. The line, "Still a killer, I'll off you with my rhymes" comes in like a bullet - an instant and strong reminder that nafla's skill as a rapper is undeniable despite adopting a more chill style of rapping on his past releases. These lyrics create a sense of danger and the beat only adds to it as the strong drums and deep bass elevate the track to another level. As nafla spits out a powerful rap, it feels like the purpose of this song is a warning not to underestimate him.

The following song, 'karma' begins with a hypnotic synth melody and is backed up by crashing cymbals, reminiscent of an early 90's Hip-Hop beat. It’s much slower and calmer than the previous track, but there is still an air of suspense that lingers. nafla’s rap tells that although he’s at a new label, he can still present the same razor-sharp skills that he’s known for. The song oozes confidence and seems like a signal that the Show Me The Money 777 winner is back to claim his place as one of the best rappers in the K Hip-Hop scene.

The album’s bold title track 'run!' sees the "underground king" of rap, JUSTHIS lend a hand on it. An airy synth and indie-style guitar open the track before a steady drum line creeps in. There’s use of heavy reverb as well, which creates a slightly haunting undertone. However, nafla's lively boom-bap flow adds a good contrast to the beat. The ad-libs and laughter on the chorus bring some edginess as it’s almost mocking, helping to intensify the sense of the rapper’s dominance. The song’s music video enhances this feeling, as it sees nafla embody a gang leader. In one of the most memorable scenes, he stands surrounded by gangsters rapping into a body in a bag that hangs from the ceiling, mimicking a microphone. The imagery is unsettling but works well to play into the trope of the rapper's overwhelming power. The music video also managed to rack up over 300,000 views within the first 24 hours which proves nafla's influence. In terms of the feature, JUSTHIS could not have been a more perfect choice for this track as he delivers two strong yet rhythmic verses. Both rappers play well with the beat and manage to complement each other which makes the track even more addictive.

nafla continues in his boom-bap style of rap on the songs 'Na to the izzo' and 'shine freestyle'. It’s a bit nostalgic to see the rapper utilize this style extensively again and it’s something that fans of his albums like 'ANGELS' will be even more excited about. The production on the first of the two tracks radiates boom-bap as it’s reminiscent of a classic beat by the producer The Alchemist. 'shine freestyle' on the other hand, finds its strength in its hooking chorus, heavy drums, and bell-like synths. In both songs, there is a lot of groove in the rapper's flow and he delivers lines so naturally that listeners may find it hard not to bop their heads along to them.

The rapper switches things up and begins to relax the pace of the album with 'today also' and 'highskool'. A vintage sounding sample, jazzy chords, and features from Paloalto and The Quiett on 'today also' bring a laid-back vibe to the song. Both featuring rappers deliver solid verses and nafla’s carefree vocals on the chorus add a nice facet to the track. 'highskool' also sees some jazz influence, and the inclusion of bright guitars creates an intricate sound as nafla raps smoothly on the beat. Lyrically, he talks about his start from the bottom and his ability to grow his success organically, going from "selling mixtapes" to now receiving the acclaim, and earning the money that he has.

photo of Korean rapper nafla
Korean rapper nafla. Source: GROOVL1N

The energy picks up momentarily with one of the more inventive songs on the album, 'don’t fuk wit me'. This song sees input from producer Big Banana who creates a trap beat for nafla to play around with. nafla takes the liberty to experiment with his tone and rap style on the track. His use of vocal fry and slurring of words is inevitably reminiscent of the up-and-coming rapper Ourealgoat who uses a similar style. On my first listen, this track was not a favourite however, it has a strange quality to it that kept me coming back to listen to it, and eventually, it grew on me.

The songs 'ride or die' and 'sip slow' see nafla channel the softer energy that he showcased on his last two albums 'u n u' parts 1 and 2. 'ride or die' includes a warm guitar riff, and the added effects of snaps in the background give it a luxurious feel. While nafla delivers an easy-going rap, Chancellor handles the chorus and brings intoxicating, honey-like vocals. 'sip slow' builds on the mellow feeling with soft piano chords, high-hats, and a short sample from Trillville's 'Some Cut' in the background. The song 'blur' on the other hand, consists of a simple synth and bass before a dreamy guitar and nafla’s rapping moves in to fill up the space. These songs seem like the perfect additions to a playlist for a late-night drive.

The mood livens up again with the twelfth track 'dreamin'', an intentionally nonchalant rap. The production, especially the vocal sample used, is evocative of Drake’s 'Tuscan Leather', a sort of modern classic. The lyrics here exude masculinity as he flexes about his encounters with women. However, this is yet another track that is perfect to vibe along to.

The album comes to a close with the incredibly moody 'paris and tokyo'. Again, listeners can feel the jazz influence as a rich piano, mellow guitar riff, and mid-tempo drums deliver a sound pleasing to the ear. The rap sticks out a bit at first as it doesn’t seem to match with the style of the beat, but the two soon blend together, and by the time nafla reaches the chorus and croons out a few sweet lines, it regains its balance. I love the feel of this song and it’s one that has been on repeat a lot.

With 'natural high', nafla demonstrates his ability to create a sophisticated album. He manages to find the sweet spot between his boom-bap and more chill styles of music and uses it to produce something fresh and exciting. It’s an album that checks off all the right points, and its skillful arrangement is bound to keep fans and new listeners alike wanting to hear more.

RATING: 9/10

Anais Khan-George

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