CD Review: Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai, "Further She Wrote"

July 18, 2011

Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai
Further She Wrote
Self-released on Moving Earth Productions LLC

Brooklyn, NY, by way of Chicago, spoken word artist Kelly Zen Yie-Tsai follows up her 2007 Infinity Breaks album with 11 tracks interweaving poetry with dense electro-hop. Producer (and fellow poet) Black Cracker's precisely crafted beats lend an added depth and atmosphere to Tsai's verse, and the induced head-nodding could broaden the appeal for those who may not immediately gravitate toward spoken word.

From an ode to Lauryn Hill to challenging the trappings of monogamy and calling on political candidates to pay more than lip service to the Asian American community, the album covers the topical spectrum. "Ballad of a Maybe Gentrifier" takes a frank, no-excuses look at the encroaching urban development in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy neighborhood — and Tsai's own role in it — buoyed by spacey, bass-heavy beats. Tsai's voice remains resonant, uninhibited and deft in its range of expression throughout.

Tsai succeeds at making the personal political without the sometimes smug, contrived feel of agit-pop or "conscious" art. She is a people's poet who still likes to party, and Further She Wrote transcends the seemingly prevalent belief that poetry has to be about either love or politics.   


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