'Victimless Crimes': Keffa weaves a melancholic tale of heartbreak in sultry genre-blending record
The artiste has elevated his sound from alternative and explorative R&B to something of a blend that is both classic and contemporary
Canadian artiste Keffaleng or 'Keffa' returns with his latest release, 'Victimless Crimes', an exploration of the mundane and melancholic moments that punctuate our lives.
Born Aaron Alem to parents of Ethiopian heritage in Ontario, the 25-year-old Toronto-based singer, rapper, producer and songwriter has already developed a fan following owing to his previous EPs and singles. His sound is classic and contemporary in equal measure, featuring a distinct R&B sound with layers of alternative, experimental and emo R&B - more commonly referred to as PBR&B, in addition to hip-hop, pop, and indie elements.
Keffa, at a very young age, moved to Scarborough with his family and was raised with an appreciation and love for music by his father. He counts a massive list of artistes as his musical influences including Michael Jackson, Harry Belafonte, Prince, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, Kool and The Gang, Marvin Gaye, Boney M, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Etta James, and Lionel Richie, in addition to more contemporary artistes like Kanye West, Kid Cudi, Pharrell, Justin Timberlake, Drake, Nirvana, Linkin Park, Frank Ocean, and The Weeknd and this range contributes significantly to his evolving sound.
But the artiste also points to his upbringing in Canada as a major inspiration for his sound. In an interview with Respect Magazine he shared, "I always go off the mood when I make music. I feel like Canada allows for those moody colors...big stars from Canada bringing Hip-Hop to a Pop demographic has introduced the region a platform for artists that weren’t making Pop or Rock music. Canada allows you to step into a lane and create your own sound."
For Keffa, this journey began in 2017 when he released his debut single, 'Not So Famous', which was followed by the highly anticipated single 'Loner' the next year. The latter landed Keffa on Spotify Canada's Viral 50 charts, peaking at number 29, and placing the artiste on many people's radars. He soon gained even more attention thanks to his debut EP 'Still Shanti' all while he was establishing his own independent recording label DPXND.
In 2019, Keffa debuted the first single off 'Victimless Crimes', a track called 'Disconnect', as well as a follow-up single called 'Try Harder'. Where his earliest music was personal and had him trying to figure out what his own sound was, his newest releases indicate Keffa has finally come into his own. He masterfully pulls together elements from all the styles he has experimented with, ranging from the alternative R&B and hip-hop of his earlier releases to the more colorful palette he used for 'Not So Famous', to create a coherent record that explores an oft-overlooked theme: the experience of melancholia.
'Victimless Crimes' is a series of tracks inspired by failed relationships, and is beautifully set against the backdrop of mundane, melancholic moments that often punctuate that experience of loss and grief. It takes listeners through the journey of heartbreak, at times lighthearted and at times raw. Describing the project Keffa states it is "Something like Roman Polanski’s Bitter Moon."
Despite Polanski's sordid past, which includes being charged with drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977 following which he fled to Paris to avoid arrest, his directorial accomplishments on movies like 'Bitter Moon' continue to influence artistry decades later. The 1992 Franco-British erotic romantic thriller starred Peter Coyote, Polanski's current wife Emmanuelle Seigner, Hugh Grant, and Kristin Scott Thomas explored a variety of themes pertaining to relationships and heartbreak and oscillated between viewing how someone goes from embracing the world to being entirely jaded and traumatized by it through the lens of satire and pity. 'Victimless Crimes' adopts similar viewpoints in telling the story Keffa is weaving and draws you into its melancholic world with ease.
Opener 'Bethlehem' is a haunting track that grabs you from the first moment, revealing right off the bat that this album is going to be a painful ride. But as opposed to one that's going to have you curled up in a ball screaming out in pain, this is a record that will have you silently accepting your fate. As Keffa grapples with letting go or holding on, you can't help but feel entirely connected to his story as if it were your own. 'Rock You', the latest single off the album, brings in a gorgeously sultry vibe that continues into 'Twenty Four Days'. Keffa has you reminiscing about a relationship you've never even been in as you empathize with his gentle, melodic vocals that yearn for a lover.
'Victimless Crimes (Interlude)' is gorgeously gritty and dark, taking us from yearning for a broken relationship to recognizing how things change over time, including how things that were once simple can seem so complicated now. Closing track 'Try Harder' is easily a standout on the album, with a blend of singing and rapping layered over a smooth, bluesy track that questions whether a complicated relationship is a two-street or the result of one person refusing to 'try harder'.
All up, 'Victimless Crimes' is a record that elevates Keffa from a young artiste exploring his sound to one who knows exactly what he's trying to say. And on this release, he makes it clear he is a force to be reckoned with.