December 15, 2021
Collaborative albums are ingrained in hip-hop culture and are especially unique when two rappers join forces to create memorable projects. The best pairings effortlessly meld each artist’s sound and style to yield a project with distinctive character. But most importantly, an established and harmonious connection between artists is necessary to solidify a strong dynamic.
Zaïre, the latest album from North Carolina rapper Well$ and New Jersey rapper/producer Angelo Mota, is a solidly constructed collection of purposeful songs. The duo’s natural chemistry resonates throughout the ten-track, 30-minute project that candidly mirrors life and its lessons. Mota produced most of the album himself, with additional production provided by Tim Gunter, Mighty Mike, Bluflame James, and Jerm Scorsese.
The project’s cohesiveness stems from Well$ and Mota’s friendship dating back to 2015. They were introduced by trusted friends and had worked on a handful of songs throughout the years. Their organic musical chemistry provided a seamless process to develop the album’s sonics and intentional lyricism. Each had input on the other’s writing process, which aided in naturally flowing transitions between verses and each song.
Their first collaborative album, Zaïre, came to fruition after five years due to a pregnancy announcement from Well$’ cousin and Mota’s close friend, Mike Tambashe, co-founder of Immaculate Taste, an independent record label and management company. Their excitement for the arrival of Tambashe’s son, Zaïre, spawned the album’s concept and direction. All it took was one week in June for the pair to complete the project at Mota’s home studio. They surprised Tambashe by coming down to his baby shower last minute and presenting their first draft to him as a gift.
“It was more so like a guide to life for [Zaïre] to hear our stories, hear what we went through. And through that, [he’ll] find the right way to go and won’t make the same mistakes we did. We’re telling [him] where we fucked up,” explained Well$.
Immediately, the album pulls its audience in with “TORNADO,” a punchy production that sets the stage for the album’s message. Mota, who’s more well known for his singing, kicks off the opening track with an emphatic rap off the rip. Well$ displays a rare side of his artistry by singing the song’s reassuring chorus, “Just remind me that we’ll be okay / Even when we go MIA / I’m looking for you anyway, anyway.” His words coast on the measured beat, showcasing an untapped vocal acuity with some technological assistance.
The song features North Carolina rapper Southside Gauxst who imparts immense wisdom within his verse and the song’s poetic outro: “Stay true to you, no matter what you do / No matter what they throw at you, weather that storm / But stay focused, you dig? / Cause it’s only two ways to do anything / That’s the right way and again, you feel me.” His words ring with maturity and are delivered in a manner that feels like a mentor offering knowledge. His uplifting message has double intention, for the listeners to gain insight from his wisdom and for the album’s true audience, Zaïre.
Understanding of the album’s creation gives further context to the packaged “real teachable moments” found within this project. At first, it reads as an album that gives us snapshots of everyday life circumstances. From the relatability of weathering the storms and navigating life’s complexities in “TORNADO” to reveling in life’s lighthearted and enjoyable moments in “HERMÉS,” listeners can find pieces of themselves through the stories they weave. Their experiences remind us that we aren’t alone in our struggles.
“The main thing I would want someone to take away is that everybody is going to make mistakes; everybody’s not going to get it perfect the first time,” said Mota.
Upon comprehending the album’s true intent, Well$ and Mota’s words hold a deeper weight. They aren’t explicit warnings to Zaïre. Instead, their words depict the undeniable polarity of adulthood’s highs and lows. He’s given situational experiences as lessons to learn how to do things differently from Mota and Well$. In “TONY WITH THE NISSAN,” Well$ melodiously expresses the frustrations of piling responsibilities and the toll it has on his mental health in the song’s hook, “I got bills due yesterday / I got problems on my plate, I got clips inside this K / If he slip I let it spray, if he slip I let it spray / I feel out my head today, can’t get out my bed today.”
“SLIDE FOR ME” dives into personal relationships against a somnolent melody. Mota’s vocal distortions and fluid delivery complement Mota’s dexterously spoken verses. The song reminds us that petty disagreements aren’t worth holding on to, a lesson symbolically reiterated by the harrowing car crash in the final verse.
“That might be the last time you talk to that person. And not to be just fearful for no reason, but it’s a reality. There’s plenty of things I wish I could have said to people before they passed that I didn’t get a chance to because of this, that, and the other,” said Mota.
The final track “TELFAR + FENTY” bestows lessons of respecting your parents, truthfulness, and choosing battles wisely, all while reminding Zaïre not to drive himself crazy trying to figure life out as he grows older.
Zaïre gives us the blueprint of what collaborative projects in music should strive for. The project depicts tangible personal experiences and reflects the complicated spectrum of life’s moments. Although this album is meant for Zaïre, we benefit from the knowledge imparted. Together, Well$ and Angelo Mota provide a well-rounded, insightful production with underlying sentimental value through their bond.