"Don’t wait for the critics to jump on this dude before you start giving it up," says everybody’s favorite Albino rhymer, Brother Ali. He’s speaking about Muja Messiah, the latest local rapper to make a big splash in the national underground hip-hop scene. "Muja is the shit. The man is right with his."
So this is your last chance to go grab (download…) Muja’s debut album Thee Adventures of a B-Boy D-Boy and enjoy it for yourself, before I ruin it with tempered, analytic praise.
Ready, go. Now come back. We can have a nice discourse in the comments section below. We will agree with each other, all of us emphasizing each other’s opinions in a positive, supporting manner. Which happens.
Okay. Let’s start with Bro Ali’s statement that "Muja is the shit." If being ‘the shit’ – and making an album that is also ‘the shit’ – necessitates putting forth an unbroken series of successful songs, then indeed there’s something gorgeous about Muja Messiah. Thee Adventures cycles through a medley of styles. The production ranges from the jazzy slow jam to the upbeat to the downright krunked, the rhymes from egotistical to introspective. And Muja effortlessly navigates from track to track, rapping convincingly over the varied beats – it’s not just like he wrote a rhyme and a producer made a beat and they synced them up and smashed them together; rather his flows seem actually to be linked with the rhythms.
Overall, his style has a bit more of an edge than most Minnesotan rappers’. Just when I thought the local scene was as saturated as it could possibly be – this is a small city to have as many big names as we do – Muja is able to inject it with something that, if not completely new, is at least new to us.
Though he expertly tackles the self-conscious and political rhymes that have filled several albums on the Rhymesayers label, Muja Messiah (whose album is put out by Black Corners) is most on point when he’s rapping about his life on the streets of North Minneapolis. (Not to say other rappers here haven’t dabbled in this milieu; it’s just that, to my mind, Muja is so far the most noteworthy.)
On "What’s This World Coming To" (which features Slug) he’s all like:
"I was conceived in a mustard green Cutlass Supreme/
lucky me at the time I was the youngest of three/
til my big sister drowned in a river/
years later my brother got gunned down and they never found the killer."
As this verse shows, he handles his personal history with frankness and even a little bit of humor. It’s his trademark mixture, and proves to be engaging on every track. One gets a sense that Muja is rapping about some important, personal issues, but where applicable he’s able to see the absurdity of his situations. I think that might be called scope.
What’s maybe most endearing, though, is an inferiority complex that hovers over the album, in regards to street credibility. While Muja Messiah raps about the toughness of his childhood, the murder victims he knows (including his brother), and his absent dad – this is the stuff of Tupac, let’s remember – he still seems to need to validate himself and the city he grew up in.
On the Lil’ Jon-inspired "Get Fresh," he’s all like:
"Niggaz backstabbin’ my city
like it’s all backpackin’ and hippy
like it ain’t crackin’ in my city
We don’t be rappin’ about rappin’
We rap about what be happenin’
in the streets."
Likewise, Thee Adventures features guest verses from Black Thought (The Roots), Slug, and I-Self Devine; his beats are produced by guys that have worked with Eminem, Nas, and De La Soul; and yet it seems like Muja’s ego still needs some propping up. It’s sweet, kind of. Coming from the state that labors to make sure everyone knows that Bob Dylan was born here, the self-conscious ego seems a very Minnesotan thing. The overall effect works in Muja’s favor: Because of its insecurities, his thuggish style of rap is accessible even to guys like me.
At the end of the day, he can’t ignore the fact that Kenwood and Linden Hills are as much a part of his city as any other neighborhood. Seeing as how he’s the wordsmith here, it’s not surprising that he puts it best himself:
"I’m from a pasture where the grass is greener
started as a rapper and emerged as a leader…
I’m down with Black Thought
I’m down with Black Blondie…
I am the Black Honkie."
**CD release party Sunday, July 27 at First Avenue**