Album Review: The Leonard Simpson Duo – LSD [Jakarta Records; January 2020]

Take one long-time, respected Detroit hip hop rapper (Guilty Simpson) and mix with one awarding-winning producer and multi-instrumentalist from New Zealand (Leonard Charles), and what do you get? The Leonard Simpson Duo who, with a convenient acronym, have synthesised LSD (released on 31st January 2020 on Jakarta Records).

The pair met in Charles’ hometown of Auckland in 2016 whilst Simpson was on tour, and this wise collaboration is decorated in a psychedelic sound drawn from sampled records within New Zealand’s acid scene of the 1960s and 1970s, as well jazz/rock fusion from the same time period – notably using David Axelrod as a benchmark. The loftiness in Charles’ production is balanced with Simpson’s blunt lyricism that clamps us down to reality.

The first few tracks establish Simpson’s core values and work ethic that have propelled him forward and persist throughout the album. “My Inspiration” instructs us to channel negativity from our obstacles, an act of resilience ploughed through a gritty sound that’s reflective of said obstacles. “Breaking Bread” then informs us to not waste time dwelling on naysayers who’d never be pleased with us either way.

As we get to “GUILTY”, the music becomes lighter and bouncier. The rhetoric from before remains much the same, but the lighter melody, beats and flow means the message is embedded within a greater enlightenment. “Friends” has a very aspirational sound, something you’d associate with the summer sun dispersing through a gorgeous penthouse on a Sunday morning.

Things get more interesting when a brooding sample from 2017’s convincingly nostalgic “Nobody Gets What They Want” (Marlon Williams and Aldous Harding) finds its way into “Nobody”. Guilty works to extinguish the sample’s whimpering notion, one’s inner worst critic if you will, before Charles turns the tune into an anthem to which one can turn to boost their pride.

And whereas plenty of LSD’s songs feel like manifestos, reaching outwards for people to hop on-board, “Message To My Ex” is a much needed break. This track is more introspective, as we are given a personal insight into Simpson’s past missteps from which he was able to grow.  

Having gotten everything out of their system, the Duo end with the long chill-out “Smokin’ Good”. This lush idyllic getaway highlights the sonical range present on LSD, making up for the consistent messaging of confidence, fortitude and loyalty to prevent it from sounding stale.