Nightmares on Wax Delivers Poignant Eighth Album ‘Shape the Future’

Beat makers the world over know the name Nightmares on Wax. As one of the most prolific underground DJs, George Evelyn has been crafting smoky trip-hop beats since the early 90s and has since helped legitimize this type of syrupy rap instrumental music – much of which has become the backdrop for today’s top rappers. When Evelyn went from strictly DJing to playing with a live band, and from strictly instrumentals to more serious vocal collaborations, Nightmares on Wax shifted from an underground darling to a serious mover in the production circuit. After classic trip-hop albums like 1995’s “Smokers Delight” and 2006’s “In a Space Outta Sound,” Evelyn has been consistently dropping gems every few years like the newly released “Shape the Future.” Available Jan. 26, the album hones in on what makes NoW a truly classic artist, while expanding on some of the themes heard throughout his career.

Kuauhtli Vasquez, Spiritual Chief of a Native American church in Texas, begins the album by setting a tone of new age oneness. “All humans share one spirit…but they want to be separated,” he says as a subtle piano riff and smooth bass rhythm fades in. Though the language feels a tad Age-of-Aquarius-y, the sentiment remains poignant and helps cast the remainder of the album in an overall positive light. This, of course, is no surprise as worldly spirituality has always been an aspect of NoW. In fact, Evelyn’s Twitter bio reads “Producer-writer-spiritual conductor.”

Though some of the album sounds slightly more experimental than Evelyn normally goes – “Shape the Future” comes across like a cheeky sci-fi theme song while “Tenor Fly” retains swirling synths as an unnamed individual freestyles on inner peace – When “Tomorrow” hits, that old “In a Space Outta Sound” feeling comes rushing in. The organ blips, the thick bass-string picking and spacey synths all converge in true Nightmares fashion. Follow that with the funk-infused “Typical” featuring New Zealand crooner Jordan Rakei, and we’re right back on track. Here, the soulful vocals of Rakei melt on Evelyn’s canvas of jazzy piano and running bass lines. This tune is right in the heart of what he does best. Crafting sensual, head-bobbing mish-mashes of all the celebrated genres pioneered by those before him. Soul, funk, R&B, jazz and hip-hop flow through “Shape the Future” as if they were always meant to be together. And in fact, they were.  

“The album has been a true journey of the soul,” said Evelyn via Twitter the morning the release before going on to thank those who helped him bring “Shape the Future” to life. There’s no listening to the work of NoW without an instantaneous feeling of love and inclusiveness. Not only do songs like “Gotta Smile” bring a literal smile to your face with its South American rhythms and trippy sound effects, or “Deep Shadows” with its Lauryn Hill-esque vocals from Sadie Walker amidst a cheery production, but when all the tracks come together in “Shape the Future”, they truly epitomize the positivity that is Nightmares on Wax.

Shape the Future” is available on Apple Music Jan. 26.