Handsome Tiger

Foundations is a solid, scorching journey into Handsome Tiger’s singular style and sound.

The first time I (and quite likely anyone else) ever heard a sample of UK-born radio announcer Geoffrey Sumner saying “This is a journey into sound” was in the introduction to Coldcut’s legendary remix of Eric B. & Rakim’s “Paid In Full”. It was the perfect snippet to mark what many consider to be hip-hop’s official entry into UK mainstream music; a milestone application of that particular sample that hasn’t been rivalled in any of its many subsequent uses.

So what does this now-ubiquitous sample have to do with Foundations, the first full-length from Vancouver-based, Anishinaabe Métis/North African producer/DJ, Hussein EL Namer, who performs as Handsome Tiger (which is the literal Arabic-to-English translation of his name)? Nothing directly, as it does not appear anywhere on Foundations, but that sample — “This is a journey into sound” — keeps going off in my head every time I listen to this record. It has been ages since instrumental dance or club music has made an emotional connection with me the way Handsome Tiger’s music has, and my hypothesis is that it comes down to his style, song sequencing, and instincts which make Foundations a musical journey from start to finish; it’s meant to be a singular album versus a collection of tunes.

Handsome Tiger is skilled at colouring his wide and vast musical canvas with deep tones and cinematic scope. All of the songs are bass-heavy, the kind of low end that feels like it’s emanating from the very core of the earth itself. It’s the groundwork on which the emotional life of each song takes shape. It’s no wonder the songs feel deeply interconnected and like passages of a longer narrative, given a statement made on Facebook weeks before the album dropped: “I held off releasing [Foundations] which was a selection of tracks made with the intent to play on sound systems and dance floors all summer… instead spending this past time [during the pandemic] unpacking and learning to surrender to when and if the time’s right,” adding that, “Though I’ve moved onto new projects it still feels right now to let this one into the light as a memento of where I was at in the process.”

Eerie, echoey synths open the aptly named “Trust Me”, a song that demands you surrender to its slow, methodical beat and otherworldly melody.  The tempo kicks up a couple of gears with the title track’s unrelenting rhythm before finding a new lane to explore on the atmospheric “Control” and “Move”.  From there, Handsome Tiger takes a detour to explore more trancey elements to his sound (“New Age” and “Another System”) before tying his love of dancehall, trap and bass together on the closing three-two-one punch “Sonars”, “Wolof”, and “Enthrall”.

A pandemic may have sidelined his plans of spinning these beats all summer long, but there’s a silver lining: regardless of how it ends up getting heard — whether through sound systems or headphones — Foundations is a solid, scorching journey into Handsome Tiger’s singular style and sound.

Dan Mangan
“There’s a Tumor in the White House”