When SMOOVCHILL rattles off a list of his primary influences — D’Angelo, Erykah Badu, Nas, Kid Cudi, Thundercat — I can only smile and nod my head. There are a lot of artists out there trying to cook up something without understanding their ingredients, but he isn’t one of them. The rapper and producer out of Stone Mountain, Ga. is preparing the release of his debut EP, Shaka Zulu, a seven-song blast of breezy funk, smooth jazz and soul that lend ample legitimacy to his moniker. The obvious comparison would be to the Dungeon Family’s Southern-fried hip-hop, but there’s also a dash of West Coast flavor brewing in his artful stew.

In the context of the record, it would be easy to underplay lead track “My World” as a kind of appetizer to the main course, to continue the metaphor. After all, it does establish a sort of underlying ideology and aesthetic that feeds into what comes next. But feast on those horns and you’ll realize this is no mere starter. Like the theme of some urban noir drama, it creates an atmosphere of dark, mournful tension. SMOOVCHILL’s flow is sharp, his wordplay eloquent, as he raps about the hard times, fears, and insecurities that comprise his worldview.

“The concept behind ‘My World’ is just like anyone’s depressed state of mind or feeling from within that wouldn’t exactly reflect on the outside,” SMOOVCHILL tells us via email. “You can really meet anyone on the street and get that surface view of them or how they are, but it would take time for you to understand them as a person and what makes them who they are. You never know what someone’s going through.”

All in all, it’s an impressive offering. “My World” might be the opening cut, the lead-in to a dynamic banquet of sounds, but it makes for a helluva meal on its own.

Shaka Zulu is out tomorrow.

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