Concrete Jungle (Decon)
On her first U.S. release, the Nigerian/German singer and rapper Nneka balances heavy funk, slinky slow jams, 21st-century beats, and influences from Africa and the Caribbean into something that seems familiar on first listen, but pays off with an open-hearted and open-minded sense of possibility that crosses as many generational boundaries as geographical ones. Concrete Jungle, a collection of tracks from two previous albums released only in Europe, offers a thick, soul-drenched antidote to the sleek, space-age production of contemporary R&B without sliding all the way into throwback territory; even though she's steeped in the '70s, Nneka's particular combo of reggae, Afro-pop, hip-hop, funk, and soul only rarely sounds retro. "Heartbeat," in particular, which was a European hit in 2008, pulses with life, its throbbing dancefloor bassline and hyperkinetic percussion supporting a scratchy old soul sample in a seamless mix of old and new. Nneka's less interested in formal innovation than M.I.A., another recent pop-without-borders omnivore. That doesn't mean she's not daring, just that she seems to find as much new to say by digging into the past as she does by reinventing it.