Since our acquaintance during my NTS Radio years and going to Throwing Shade’s first single-release party for Kassem Mosse’s Ominira label, I’ve followed Nabihah’s progress from a distance and have been puzzled. Is she a musician, an artist, polyvalent woman? She got an MPhil at Cambridge in African history, worked on human rights law in South Africa, has released music on No Pain in Pop and Ninja Tune, and has had commissions from the Tate. Now Weighing of the Heart, her debut LP as Nabihah Iqbal, is being released.
The musical neighborhood of this album is the dreamy pop end of dance. It’s led by wandering guitar—an instrument Nabihah’s been increasingly playing at her live gigs—laidback synth lines, and repetitive angular drums and strummed bass that bring to mind Factory Records. Nabihah’s voice is present too. And it all has an adolescent flavour, like its target demographic is teenagers.
In "Zone 1 to 6000" she sings "In every class in every school . . . waking up to break the rules." She sings from an all-seeing point of view, like she’s speaking for everyone but in the platitudes of a generic Londoner. "In every slap and every kiss and every push that turns to shove and every hit and every miss, it’s always work and never love." I want to identify this as Nabihah speaking from her heart, but the distance she takes from the material keeps me from getting close. Whilst there is a greater confidence and dynamism in this production than her previous ones, Nabihah’s lyrics could take the confident step of bringing her listeners closer to herself as Nabihah Iqbal. It would also be consistent with dropping her Throwing Shade stage name.
The promo information said one of the important elements of retiring the Throwing Shade name in favor of her birth name is to promote her Asian heritage. Good. But what’s interesting about her mixed ethnic heritage and education and experience is that the music to my ears sounds very "white." The subject matter colorless. I don’t sense the Asian-British experience we’re usually given. In an interview with i-D when asked to name a memorable song from her childhood, she said "something by Oasis." Now what’s beautiful about that is it’s unexpected and rarer than a white guy referencing a minority’s culture.
Pop, of course, doesn’t have to be weak or semantically compromised. Arthur Russell is a good example of a past musician who made a pop sound but kept it poetic and artistic. And in current pop Cardi B in her tune, "Bodak Yellow," sings with irrepressible attitude, "I don’t gotta dance, I make money move," and somehow transcends her other morally questionable statements to her rivals. Princess Nokia has defended her use of "bitch" as part of her roots. These aren’t comparisons to Nabihah but references to musicians with both heritage and individualism. In 2017 the world is hybridizing at an overwhelming rate of information exchange. With her twinge of Sahel-toned guitar, the touch of house, the new wave bits, where does that put Nabihah? Is she forging a new tradition?
Weighing of the Heart is, to me, an unripe album. The recording is slick and the mix is by the guy who mixed the last Gorillaz album, but I just don’t feel any outstanding music-making talent or skill. I see a marketable product.
And perhaps Nabihah Iqbal is a product of these real inconsistencies and contradictions and novelties that define a modern urban hybridized young woman. So is this her the individual? What’s the difference? I just wish Weighing of the Heart gave me more musical pleasure. There aren’t tracks I would play in the club, and I don’t think I’ll play it at home or share it with friends. What I have done is discussed its social and music-industry context. So I think that means whilst this record isn’t for me, it will serve the audience it’s made for.
02. Something More
03. Saw U Twice
04. In Visions
05. Alone Together
06. Zone 1 to 6000
07. Feels So Right
08. New New Eyes
10. Eternal Passion
Weighing of the Heart will land on December 1.