Black Star Elephant marks the first release since Afro-Norwegian duo, Envy, became Nico & Vinz earlier this year. Following the international success of their new single, Am I Wrong, the duo signed to Warner Bros. Records and chose to change their name to avoid confusion with other artists.
Despite being born and raised in Norway, Nico & Vinz are greatly influenced by their West African roots – Nico’s parents hail from the Ivory Coast and Vinz’ are from Ghana. This has lead to the duo’s eclectic genre-spanning sound, which combines the rhythm and soul of African music with a Scandinavian pop vibe. The duo effortlessly blends pop, reggae, dance, hip-hop, rock and soul, to create a sound that has been highly successful over the past few months, with Am I Wrong topping the charts in 41 different countries.
In addition to genre-bending, Nico & Vinz’ optimism about the future and overall positivity is a defining characteristic on Black Star Elephant and even led to them performing at last year’s Nobel Peace Prize concert.
The album opens with a thirty second African a capella introduction, which works to ground them in their cultural roots and provides an attention capturing lead into their debut single Am I Wrong. Since its release Am I Wrong has had major success reaching double platinum sales, and it’s clear to see why. The tune has an infective pop hook and, combined with upbeat vocal melodies and catchy Afrobeat rhythms, it’s a difficult one to ignore.
It is then followed by the more relaxed Last Time, whose laid back versus build into another upbeat sing-along chorus. The vocals stand out as having instant appeal on this album as the two vocalists’ voices compliment each other beautifully, as is certainly noticeable on this track.
Unfortunately, however the rest of the album falls short. Their hearts are clearly in the right place, but there is something about the teaming of the overly sincere lyrics with club-ready tribal-inspired beats that make this record sound somewhat clichéd. This comes across in the lightweight tracks Know What I’m Not and Miracles, which sound almost too commercial and self-conscious to be taken 100% seriously.
However, tracks like My Melody and Imagine, which are unapologetically inspired by and focused on their African heritage, definitely bring some substance to the record, while People and Runnin’ both demonstrate that Nico and Vinz have a knack for writing a solid pop tune.
The two men are clearly superb vocalists, and the album even features some well incorporated rapping into it’s songs, however there is something underwhelming about Black Star Elephant overall. Nico and Vinz have an optimistic approach to song writing, which has the potential to leave listeners feeling upbeat, but also possibly short-changed. Overall the duo are achieving good things by introducing African beats and harmonies to a more mainstream Western audience and their positive message is not one to be ignored, however the delivery may prove ineffective.