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Magna Carta

Artist: Melanin 9

Label: Red Snow

By Andrew Kay | 24 October 2012

British hip-hop of the last few years seems to pay homage to the history of artists past. Much of the production is thoughtful, nuanced, complative in mood, but laced with attitude, where and when required.

Lyrically dense and descriptively vivid, U.K rapper Melanin 9 is a talented artist in an era where the art form is left to a few brave souls to fly a flag that’s a bit tatty and dog-eared , with many of its former fans now listening to dubstep. With hip-hop diluted to a corporate sound bite, a cereal box ad, a sexualised Barbie doll or just a throwaway commodity, Melanin 9’s takes things back to the essence- paying respect to the art form that he’s chosen to work with, but giving it that dog-shit soiled, grey-cracked pavement, foggy and dull & crime-infested environmental insight that informs his ideas and rhymes.The firs cut, ‘Gene of Isis’ is a jazzy instrumental that sets the mood of the whole album- mellow, thoughtful, free of bullshit; about business and focus.

The title cut of the album uses another jazz sample, of which the name escapes me (A Tribe Called Quest used it, that I’m sure of), with Melanin 9 sounding very much like 90s British rapper Silent Eclipse. With lyrical content covering racial identity, poverty, mind state, crime and trying to maintain an equilibrium in the face of disadvantage, it’s a positive cut, but one that doesn’t shy away from the stress he and his peers are under.

‘Landslide’ covers similar ground as the title track, but the tempo is a bit more upbeat, laced with a moody harpsichord.

‘The 7 Blues’ feat. Madame Pepper is a choppy drum beat, piano, tambourine & female vocal collage that forces the listener to pay attention, to carefully absorb the thoughtful rhymes; the precise perspective and the despair and pain in Melanin’s voice. There’s no romanticism here. No fiction movie- people are in pain; people are suffering and dying, and, yet, it seems like there’s hope.

‘Cosmos’ – is another jazzy boom-bap marriage, with more vivid rhymes and a nice dose of verbosity and verbal dexterity.

 11:08’- is an instrumental interlude that sounds like the mixer board threw out what was conceived in a womb or under water.

‘Love’s Stencil’ is the album’s most purely soulful cut. It’s a love song- the title gives it all away- but there’s a bit more thought and persuasive swagger going on here. The intellectual hoodlum is getting his.

‘Heartless’ featuring Triple Darkness, is a bitter, ruthless cut, where hope doesn’t reside. Fate seems to be playing its part and these two rappers trade rhymes like razors wedged into toothbrushes.

‘White Russian’ featuring Yank man-of-the-moment, Roc Marciano , sounds like a Black Moon, Beatminerz cut from the mid 1990s. There’s a boom-bap loop chugging along, but lacing it all is the spacey rhythms evoking parallel universes and open spaces, well away from the cramped crime-infested high rise estates.

‘Organised Democracy’ uses the underrated sample, ‘Love’s Theme’ by Fausto Papetti (used by Eric B. & Rakim on ‘And the Rhyme Goes On’) combined with some the most sinister, despairing and mournful trumpets to ever be used on a hip-hop track. This is cinematic, musically, and perceptive,  lyrically,  in how it talks about being fitted up by police and that the State deliberately targeting young black youth to keep the ‘business’ of justice and the wheels turning.  Melanin 9 argues It is a racket, not unlike the prison system, which has little to do with real justice, more the symptom of target culture.

‘Colour Blind’ recalls Rass Kass in a beautifully science-dropping  tale, debunking myths of ego and self; food products being coded  in a certain way to define: “you are what you eat,” the loss of identity and  the revelation that we need a lot of energy just to  process a single thought (we just don’t understand, as we take it for granted). Just as before on other cuts, the haunting use of jazzy rhythms and textured musical samples sways you into listening to the track in contemplation.

‘Magna Carta’ is one of the best British hip-hop albums I’ve heard in a long, long time. Thoughtful, lyrically dense, verbose rhymes are descriptively and deftly handled by a very skilled and highly intelligent MC. Keeping it raw and funky enough, with that boom-bap, throwback feel, laced with jazzy mood music, the album never falls into the trap of sounding like poetry read in a coffee shop, despite the scientifically rich subjects on display here.

Magna Carta is due out 3rd December and can be pre-ordered at http://www.melanin9.com

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