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Shade Tree” by Rocky Dawuni

With his breathy voice at the center of our attention, Rocky Dawuni launches into a soft lyrical intro in his new single “Shade Tree” that just might take listeners by surprise if they’re familiar with his total body of work. Although Dawuni’s music has had a lush quality to it thus far, this is the first track that feels deliberately dreamy, like a surreal pose that was meant to test its designer in every way possible. He pushes himself and the harmonies in this single to the brink and comes back to the spotlight looking like one of the more inventive players to emerge out of the Ghanaian underground in the last couple of years. “Shade Tree” was just the track to spotlight his versatility, and what he’s becoming early on in his career.

Dawuni’s delivery of the verses is still fast and fluid but a little more reserved here than it had to be, likely to increase the tension in the song’s key moments of cathartic release. The chorus isn’t the lone element of kinship he’s developing in this piece, but instead, the linchpin holding together the bands of melodic ribbonry his vocal is riding atop. There’s potential to insert a psychedelic bend to this template in a remix, but even as it stands in this version, “Shade Tree” has a cerebral component that makes it seem as though we’re listening to someone’s internal dialogue as opposed to the ravings of a singer in a pop single.

The instruments here couldn’t get any simpler, but the arrangement itself is pretty impressive and rather complex. The tempo feels like it’s shifting constantly despite Dawuni clinging to a pretty consistent groove from start to finish, and this in turn helps to pull us closer to the friction in the track than we would have been in a less hands-on mix. “Shade Tree” somehow highlights the most endearing features in barebones and surreal pop songwriting in the melodic reggae subgenre without sounding like its narrative is split into two distinct acts, and if this song structure made its way onto a future release bearing this artist’s name in the byline, it wouldn’t surprise me at all. Duality is everything in today’s reggae game, and this player has it in the best way.

It’s been a whirlwind year for Rocky Dawuni, and if this single sees the same kind of success that his last couple of studio cuts have, he’s going to become one of the more justifiably hyped singers in all of the underground in 2023. He’s improving his lyrical charisma significantly here and making it so that we’re not able to break down the story he’s telling without considering everything from the backdrop to the tempo of the verses he’s slinging at us with ease. Being detail-oriented used to get a lot of young players in reggae tripped up long before their time to shine ever came into focus, but this is a chapter in history in which Rocky Dawuni is going to use compositional intricacies to rise through the ranks and take over his scene.

Mindy McCall



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