Album Review: Diatonic Funk by Nodin

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Get ready to vibe out with Diatonic Funk. Nodin returns with an emotional rollercoaster of a project. 

In a time where many popular rappers prioritize flow and beats in their music, it is refreshing to find lyrical hip-hop that emphasizes impressive wordplay and colorful storytelling. Boston’s underappreciated hip-hop scene has tons of untapped potential right now, like up-and-comer Zion Daniel, a.k.a. Nodin. Last year, the Boston-based rapper dropped his first album, “Tulpa,” where he first demonstrated his chops as a lyricist. His follow-up, “Diatonic Funk”, dropped on May 17th, featuring the likes of Sage Bay, Stbrn Sal, Rated R Playboy, and more.

The 17-track project has a runtime of about 54 minutes, which, for some, can be a tough commitment. But luckily, Nodin is able to keep it interesting. The majority of the album has beats typical of lyrical hip-hop: jazz samples or piano loops with simple drums to keep it mellow. Songs like “Heartthief” and “Eye to Eye” have especially great beats that lend themselves to Nodin’s staggered cadence. The echoed spoken word intros in both of these songs helps create a moodiness that pervades the album. The instrumental track “A-shift,” featuring Andrew Alessi, sneaks up on listeners, sending them on a vivid and smooth jazz trip before transitioning into “Let it go,” which slightly changes the pace away from melancholy. With an upbeat, string-based instrumental and trap vocals, the song acts as a satisfying landing for what can be an emotionally heavy album. 

The album is at its best when Nodin takes advantage of his strong suits. He especially shines on tracks like “Sunny Day,” “Smokebreak,” and “Come Home,” where the flow is kept simple and clean, allowing his clever lyricism to glide over suave beats. The pause at the beginning of “Sunny Day” is especially satisfying and begs a replay. In the same song, he spits: “Frozen, chosen / skating around with the homies / woven into my emotions.” Here, a double entendre connects skating and his inner turmoil, alluding to the weaving motion commonly done on skateboards. In those moments, Nodin’s talent is undeniable. 

While most of the tracks are outstanding, there are a few that fail to hit the mark. Some songs had an autotune effect, creating moments of dissonance mid-song and jarring the listener. The production flare kills the fifth track, “Lye,” where feature Sage Bay starts off strong but is interrupted by the out-of-place effect. The first track has the same effect, which drags down an otherwise catchy song. Some songs seemed to not fit in with the common lo-fi sound of the album, like the vaguely Latin-sounding beat on “zzz.” The change in pace is handled better on the titular track, where the funk bassline is satisfying enough to make it slide. 

All things considered, Nodin was thoroughly impressive on “Diatonic Funk”. At times, the album feels too long, but then Nodin drops smart lines that force listeners to rewind to fully digest it. His clever songwriting and dynamic beat choice made for a fun listen. Questionable production choices hurt the project in some parts, but they do not take too much away from what is overall a good album.

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