ZiDiiL - "Soulbound" Review
Founding member of the collective "ENYU", ZidiiL recently released their latest project titled "Soulbound" and we broke down the finest details down to a science. This 11 track project goes above and beyond to showcase ZidiiL's creative ability, don't miss this exclusive Music Mondays article.
ZiDiil is a fully-developed artist: a rapper, singer, producer, engineer, graphic artist, as well as the founder of the music collective ENYU, a talented group of individuals with fellow multihyphenates such as Scott Delta and Illmana. A musician since the very beginning, they grew up playing various instruments and honing their musical skills before starting to develop their artistry via songwriting and production throughout their high school years, eventually dropping out of college to pursue music as a career. They created the collective ENYU around 2016 as an outlet for themselves and select peers to “channel [their] intentions and [their] ideas together to create something tangible and real, while also using it spiritually as a means to add purpose and establish a support system,” eventually fully realizing the collective around the summer of 2019 when the members came together from “all corners of the U.S.” to pursue their aspirations in music and art.
This September, they dropped an LP titled Soulbound, a grand sonic adventure explored through the lens of hip-hop, dream pop, witch house, and a plethora of other musical and artistic influences that the artist has channeled into a dense 11-song album. While they have been very active in the underground music scene, dropping conceptual EPs and smaller-scale projects over the years– including countless collaborations with other ENYU members– they consider Soulbound to be their first official full-length album: “full length, full send, full picture.” Roughly two years in the making, this album hits everything from Eldia-esque dance-pop (look no further than ‘As Above So Below’ with Grbageman) to ruthless Memphis-inspired trap, wholly genre-defiant but a masterful exploration of every sound that it touches on.
Fully produced by ZiDiil, the instrumentals and engineering on this album are nothing short of breathtaking; for example, on the penultimate track ‘Sentience (One That Made)’, it starts off fairly minimally with some synth pads for texture as ZiDiil’s voice echoes through the stereo field, an airy whisper before a sparse drum line drops alongside the initial verse. As the song progresses, it feels like it’s alive– evolving, even– as the softer synth textures swirl, as more melodic elements are introduced, and as the drum line fills out with a powerful drop of stomping kicks and reverberated rimshots under ZiDiil’s calm croon, eventually warping into a wall of breathing textures and chopped vocal runs as it fades to silence. There is so much care put into every aspect of the production and just as much care put into the mixing of this record; every choice made on this album feels purposeful and thoughtful, and while there may be some songs on the record where the vocals are fairly obscured under various effects (‘As Above So Below’ and ‘Restoration Prayer (Requiem)’ being good examples), it’s clear that they are stylistic choices rather than any sort of error on the artists end as there are no offensive frequencies nor muddiness. Despite all of the vocal processing done on this album alongside the heavy harmonic textures and warped layers of melodies, all on top of constantly evolving drum patterns that border on experimental, every element of each track comes through clearly without clashing in the mixes, creating lush soundscapes rather than cacophonous messes.
A fair amount of the first half of the album falls into poppier territory in terms of vocal performances and production, with songs like ‘Kiwi Spree’ (featuring Scott Delta) showing off ZiDiil’s higher register as their airy cadence and melodic-rap delivery evokes the spirit of artists like Thaiboy Digital and Ecco2k, especially when accentuated by the bright arpeggiated synth plucks and catchy trap percussion that this track features. In the aforementioned track ‘As Above So Below’ with Grbageman, ZiDiil’s staccato flow brings incredible energy to the Eldia-adjacent dance beat, their vocals heavily processed (much like Kiwi Spree) as the reverberated and delayed tails of each bar blend into the soundscape of the instrumental. It’s an excellent example of an artist using their voice as an instrument of sorts, but it’s unique in the fact that this is mostly done in the engineering rather than the performance– their vocals still sit on top of the mix as intended, although the added effects create a vast bed of sound that adds a lot to the atmosphere of the song.
The futuristic, experimental sounds of the first half of the record get reined in with the following song, ‘Left4dead’ (featuring Scott Delta). ZiDiil takes a step back from the bright melodic deliveries shown prior, instead utilizing their talents as a rapper and lyricist to create one of the most interesting hip-hop songs of the year so far. The production on ‘Left4dead’ is still ethereal and layered, but significantly more grounded as the shimmering synth-pads throughout the song are tamed under filters to allow more room for the artist's vocals to shine. The instrumental is completed with a fairly standard trap drum line, the two-step hi-hats accentuated by light rolls and thin rimshots, all under a bouncy-but-simple bassline to complete the catchy rhythm. Like many other songs on the album, the instrumental feels alive. The transitions between verses and sections in each song are dizzying, and the evolution of many beats on here make each track feel like a journey. Not to mention, ZiDiil’s verse after Scott Delta’s brief interlude is a fantastic showcase of their lyrical ability– their bars often toe the line between straightforward and esoteric, dripping with metaphor but clear in intent. They balance exaltation and introspection between bars (“Disrespect the faction, we gon’ turn it to an accident / Fatal my attractions, will I ever find some happiness?”) while blending in dense internal rhyme schemes that command the listener’s total attention.
The departure from the pop-adjacent sounds and structures of the previous tracks is furthered in ‘Restoration Prayer (Requiem)’. I’m unsure if this was the intent, but in the context of the full album, it seems to act as a hard interlude between the melodic soundscapes of songs prior and the deeper dive into hip-hop and psychedelic territory that characterizes the latter half of Soulbound. Five total artists (including ZiDiil) are credited as having vocal performances on ‘Restoration’, but the vocals on this song are layered and processed and filtered so heavily that each performance becomes near-indistinguishable from each other, a wall of voice that glides between registers, creating beautiful harmony while allowing few– if any– lyrics to escape the ambiance. Trails of reverb and delay from the artist's vocal runs overlap with each other and disappear into the fog of the instrumental, a very minimalist composition characterized by a trap-esque drum line. The kicks stomp through the mix alongside the subdued bassline, while the snares and hi-hats/cymbals are delegated to an accent in the overall mix, never quite reaching the higher frequencies expected of them. The vocal processing and layering in this song alongside the slower, darker drumline create a very claustrophobic atmosphere, but it’s not to the detriment of the song. This brief track is a brilliant-yet-simple composition with a masterful mix and arrangement, clear in tone while otherwise quite opaque.
The following two songs, ‘Distant Memory’ and ‘Valhalla’, follow a fairly traditional song structure as it pertains to ZiDiil’s previous rap performances but they differ greatly in their overall tone. ‘Distant Memory’ shows ZiDiil adopting a laidback Memphis-esque flow, with some more confidence in their tone exuded through each syllable without the aggression displayed in ‘Valhalla’. Both the instrumental and the vocals of ‘Distant Memory’ are coated in reverb, but just enough to create a dream-like atmosphere. The vocal mix is reminiscent of Yung Lean’s earlier work (see: Yoshi City) blended with Memphian proto-trap, with the instrumental sounding like a unique divergence in the evolution of early cloud rap. Shimmering melodies and drifting pads are layered under ZiDiil’s vocals, melodic elements falling in and out of the mix as the reverberated hi-hats give a sort of ‘live’ feeling to the percussion. It’s a soothing yet empowering track, almost like a small victory lap or reprieve from the ails of life during the creation of the record.
On ‘Valhalla’, ZiDiil is much more upfront– their voice is belted, staccato-spitting each syllable with a ferocity unheard to this point on the record. The title is quite fitting for the feeling this song gives me; it feels heavenly, both in the gorgeous production as well as the louder, clearer mix in contrast to ‘Distant Memory’. The slightly braggadocious streak of their lyrics loses the modesty entirely, with the artist’s delivery confrontational and confident as they establish their ascendance (“Bitch I’m the boss, bitch I’m the blueprint / Two cents dropped on the block, keep it movin’”). There is no opacity to their intent here, but there is a lot of justified posturing as this is one of the catchiest songs of the year without following a single trend. Songs like this where every element of the instrumental punches through and their vocals are entirely unobscured only serve to cement ZiDiil’s ever-increasing talent as it shows that they don’t need eccentric engineering techniques to create a fantastic song– they’re just another facet of their artistry that they use to the best of their ability. It makes spacey, soulful albums like this so much greater when those techniques are utilized in other songs that I believe would still be just as strong at their rawest iteration (see: Left4dead, Kiwi Spree, As Above So Below, Saturnalia). Another thing I want to mention is that the sound selection for the drums throughout the record is nothing short of breathtaking, featuring a lot of unconventional hi-hat/snare/accent percussion sounds that add a significant amount of depth to the rhythms under the heavily-layered melodies, although ZiDiiL seems to consistently love a heavy kick drum– I do too, so that’s okay with me.
The following song, ‘Allah’, is one of the catchiest and most accessible on Soulbound, immediately kicking off with a wall of shimmering synths and textures that feel as dense as diamond, but only for a moment. Each melodic element settles into its own place in the mix in the following seconds, giving the arrangement some room to breathe before an incredibly bouncy drum line begins, leading into ZiDiil’s absolute earworm of a hook. Their pointed, chant-like delivery throughout the hook provides an immediate burst of energy that never truly lulls throughout the remainder of the song, allowing the artist to relax their cadence during their verse. The vocal performance during their verse on this song is less focused on hitting every rhythmic space as sharp as before, with ZiDiil floating over the drums as opposed to fitting within their confines, vaguely evoking the cloudy flows of Warlord-era Yung Lean. This is used to their advantage as they fuse this lackadaisical style of delivery with their strong lyrical ability, creating a tastefully carefree and immensely enjoyable listening experience that feels more low-stakes without sacrificing any amount of quality– their flow during the bars “Popstar like Madonna, bitch / Like Benny, fuck a ‘Hana / Benzo poppin’, I’m a Leo like Mufasa” is absolutely mind-bending, yet simple and catchy enough to enjoy on a more casual level than some of the higher-concept songs on the album. The contrast between the bubbly brightness of the instrumental and the hedonistic braggadocio of ZiDiil’s performance works incredibly well on this song, playing to the artists strengths both as a songwriter as well as a producer. That being said, ‘Allah’ is not without its own little left-turn; as the outro begins and ZiDiil’s chanted hook gets split bar-by-bar, repeating and warping through a heavy blanket of vocal processing, the overall mix of the instrumental progressively gets more and more “smushed” until it’s reduced to a brain-rattling bassline that’s only pierced by the higher-frequency synths cutting through the echoed repetitions of “Allah my persona / A-Allah my persona”.
A muted, warped synth line atop a thumping kick drum rhythm open up the next song on the record, the aptly-named ‘Saturnalia’. ZiDiil’s exploration of psychedelia and eccentricity in hip-hop production really starts to kick into gear again on ‘Saturnalia’, which features some of the most interesting sound selection yet once the drum line fleshes out a bit more throughout ZiDiil’s strong first verse, evolving into an off-kilter rhythm that oozes personality without straying too far from convention or distracting from other elements of the instrumental. The accent percussion is the standout rhythmic component, squelching and blooping and bleeping through stomping kick drums and sharp snares, accentuating each bar– hell, each syllable with how well ZiDiil rides this beat– and adding an impressive amount of texture to an otherwise sparse rhythm. As mentioned, ZiDiil’s rapping on this song is elite, weaving internal rhymes and assonance even through individual bars with a confident, emphatic delivery. The lyrics are once more fairly opaque, although the artist lets a lot of personality poke through the ambiguity (“Digital dash, I’m passing that Tron pack / Virtual pyramids, all that”) to provide a bit of relief from the ever-increasing tension of the song.
Just over halfway through the song, the tone changes entirely. Closing their verse out strong, they do so through heavy-handed vocal filtering, never letting up on the energy but utilizing this familiar mixing technique once more to pivot into a new direction. ZiDiil trades the hard-hitting bars of their first verse for airy, elegant harmonies, letting the instrumental do more of the talking for a little bit around their heavenly croon before that too eventually fades, closing out the song. The production and ZiDiil’s performance on this track were both breathtaking, but the uneven structure and length made it feel like a bit of an interlude– I feel like the section after the last drop didn’t have much time to breathe, and there could have been some deeper sonic exploration done, especially when compared to some of the earlier transitions/switch-ups on the album. I think another verse akin to the first or a deeper dive into the second section may have made this song stand on its own a little more, given its existing strengths. Regardless, it doesn’t detract from the record as it fits perfectly not just in sequencing but in the progression of the tone throughout, although it may be one that I return to less on its own rather than in the context of Soulbound as a whole.
Sentience dives much further into the psychedelia of this record than ever before, opening with sweeping pads that never quite seem to settle in the mix. The artist's voice is heard, but they’re not quite at the forefront yet– throughout much of the first half of this song, ZiDiil sings in an airy whisper, their vocals frequently blending into the synth pads as the frequencies of the two align. The light melody and quiet vocals soon find their place as a powerful drum line begins, complete with stomping kicks and echoing rimshots. ZiDiil lowers their vocal register, projecting their voice to a raspy croon as a new cascade of thin, bright synth lines echo behind them. Another powerful drop follows a brief, glitchy break as the reverberated drum line fills out, accompanied by a flute-like lead synth. The drums almost sound tribal, as if the artist is conducting a ceremony within the confines of their DAW. ‘Sentience’ feels like a psilocybin comeup– waves of psychedelia hitting the brain (or in this case, the ears) before it eventually peaks, the soundscape reaching new depths as ZiDiil’s production takes you on a journey through their sonic galaxy. The song reaches a meditative outro, slowly stripping back subtle elements of the instrumental that could’ve been missed had their presence not been made clear by their absence, before the last synth pads fade and the trip ends.
Warbed synths lead us into the final song in this journey, ‘Star Traveler Syndicate’, accompanied by an eclectic drum rhythm that drops us straight into ZiDiil’s verse. Their voice is pitched up again, but unlike their performance on ‘As Above So Below’, each word comes through loud and clear. ZiDiil’s flow over this beat is impeccable; despite the glitches and stuttered thin drums, they never fall out of rhythm, always hitting the right pocket with unmistakable fervor. Their performance here reminds me of a blend of JID’s pinpoint-precise flow with a hint of Isaiah Rashad’s poised delivery, specifically his 2016 song ‘Park’, a unison of stylistic choices that scratches my brain in an incredibly unique way. The intricacy of the songwriting is as clear as ever here, shedding some of the mystique in order to show off their unobfuscated lyrical talent with a plethora of punchlines and rhyme schemes that rivals– if not outright transcending– nearly all of their peers in the underground. Eventually, the lyrics lose some density, the artist fiercely ad-libbing around staccato short bars as the instrumental treads on, concluding both ‘Star Traveler Syndicate’ and Soulbound.
While ‘Star Traveler Syndicate’ is amazing, it doesn’t necessarily feel like an outro, sharing the gripe I had with ‘Saturnalia’– it feels a bit more like an interlude. The depth of the song’s production and structure does not match that of the track preceding it– not that it is lacking in quality or effort– and I wonder if the album might feel more complete if ‘Star Traveler Syndicate’ and ‘Sentience’ traded places, given that ZiDiil’s fervent rap performance on this song more closely aligns with the rest of the latter half of the album while Sentience explores a lot of new territory and leans even heavier into the psychedelia that is threaded through this record.
Soulbound is a masterful record, and the effort put into it is clear from the moment that it begins, both in the performances and production as well as every aspect of the album surrounding them. ZiDiil is an incredibly powerful songwriter and producer, and they utilize every second of this album to create an in-depth journey through the past two years of their life and the experiences that came with it. There’s something for everyone on here, even fully diving into dance music at one point with ‘As Above So Below’, but there is a strong sense of cohesion with all of these songs in the context of the full album. The engineering prowess showcased on Soulbound cannot be overstated either, as every one of these songs uses a plethora of effects and forms of audio processing in order to create an entire world within the span of about two minutes; while some of the tracks on here can feel genuinely epic, complete with beat switches and breakdowns and stunning transitions, there is not one song on here that reaches the three-minute mark. I believe, given the density of the production, that this works to the albums advantage. ZiDiil hasn’t stretched themselves too thin with any song on here, instead using the full extent of their talent to create an extremely enjoyable experience with every track. Songs like ‘Allah’ and ‘Valhalla’ are earworms, able to stand on their own without additional context, while songs like ‘Saturnalia’ fit perfectly in the sequence of the album and help emphasize just how much this album evolves in its 25-minute length. ZiDiil already has an extensive discography, but not much that is quite as ambitious or fully realized as the concepts and sounds explored on Soulbound, and I think many artists in this scene could only hope to craft a debut album as cohesive and impactful as ZiDiil has done here in just over a year. I’m extremely curious to see how they progress their sound and continue to experiment with the limits of hip-hop production, or if they choose to forgo those limits entirely and begin further exploration of other genres, a level of versatility that they’ve demonstrated they can pull off quite well on this album. I do hope to see more production from outside sources on the next record, or even from within ENYU such as from Scott Delta– not that ZiDiil’s production ever gets tiring or lacks excitement but just as a means to see the artist experiment further with sounds and directions that they might not have implemented on their own, even with the boundless creativity they showcased on Soulbound. I highly recommend giving this album a full listen, as well as checking out the rest of ZiDiil’s discography and that of the rest of ENYU (particularly Scott Delta and Illmana, who both dropped short solo projects at the beginning of the year) because there are very few people in the scene doing it like ENYU does, particularly with the level of passion and raw talent that they all possess. I look forward to seeing the next output from ZiDiil, although I must say that I am extremely content with this record for now, as there is still so much left to unpack here and so much depth to the musicality that is better left heard than read.
Soulbound is available on all streaming platforms.
Stream Soulbound: open.spotify.com/album/7jiga2mOz5rOf3NcEdqQZ6?si=OIPJ_VLoSB2TyML4RR1i_Q
Follow ZiDiiL: linktr.ee/zidiilenyu
Writen By xoarctic: twitter.com/xoxoarctic