The combination of two virulent emcees and a lavish beatmaker has become a traditional form in underground hip-hop—witness albums successfully churned out by Scarub, Murs and Eligh with their moniker 3 Melancholy Gypsies and Phonte, Big Pooh and 9th Wonder as Little Brother by means of two solid albums. With a DJ distinct and productive enough to provide a consistent musical landscape, the emcees are free to play with form over the sonic discourse behind them.
In the case of Tanya Morgan, Brooklyn producer Von Pea and Cincinnati lyricists Ilwill (Donwill and Ilyas) coalesce to deliver the trio’s debut album Moonlighting, an impressively smooth and rich creation. Pre-Moonlighting, Tanya provided a free download of their mixtape Sunrise to Sunset on their website, where the trio dropped exclusives and offered a tasty introduction to their sound. Pulling an electronic Postal Service for their debut, the trio created tracks mostly via the Information Superhighway, only meeting in person halfway through recording in order to finish the album in “Brooklinnati”. But with Von Pea assuming both production and verbal roles, Tanya Morgan develops a downy identity that manages to deliver without clouding the trio’s embedded chemistry.
Tanya’s mission statement is to basically create feel good music with a message, which they certainly accomplish without slipping into preachy tirades. With a library of samples to make an amateur blush, Von Pea unites everything from gospel to jazz to big band to create a musical foundation that emotes freshness and individuality. Over these wistfully contemplated beats, Von Pea slips into emcee character to join Ilwill in order to create a niche for themselves in the hip-hop scene.
Bumping straight from the first track, Tanya launches into “The Warm Up”, a woozy track based on the drunken slur of a jazz guitar pinned against the shrill of trumpets. The emcees trade off for the spotlight, equally distinguishing themselves from other hip-hop groups with lines like “Do it low budget cause we love it, run a track across country, yo, you got it? (Yea, we got it).” Hiding behind the veil of trio, though, causes the emcees to all wear a single mask that hinders the cultivation of three separate identities. On “The Warm Up”, as well as most of the album, the trio falls into a grey zone where the emcees are faceless and interchangeable for the fact that their styles and inflections are all too similar. Tanya sounds as if the album is delivered from a single rapper, which makes the album enjoyable despite its multiple rappers definition.
The lead single, “Take the L (Get It)”, is a glorious new-wave disco thump that rides the screech of faint violins, with rapid-fire rhymes that attack emcees for their abstinent abilities to rap with meaning. Donwill drops couplets that move forward while concurrently making the listener pause: “I’m movin’ my bowels/ Shittin’ on the wannabe contender/ Might not know the face/ But the voice y’all remember.”
“Rough U Up,” a track that seems out of place, for its down-South jangly beat, sardonically pokes fun at mainstream rap artists for their vices, a theme perpetually exalted on Moonlighting. The beat, accented by the bland bump of 808 hi-hats and the infamous Lil’ Jon handclap, offer up a space for the emcees to joke, as displayed with the rhyme “Y’all in the club, you lookin’ all poor/ I got ‘em ready to get preggy want me up in ‘em raw.”
Though there may be a fair share of airing out on the album, there’s an equal amount of self-aggrandizement that remains seemingly deserved. On “We Be”, the emcees introduce themselves as the “almighty” Tanya Morgan over a chopped organ snip laced with the dusky interjection of a soul-filled vocal sample. Von Pea delivers a smoldering head-spin of a verse that perfectly exemplifies their capabilities: “From exploring the seven seas, to the shores of emcees’ minds/ I climb beneath the sublime/ Trying to remind them of what it needs to be in times of turmoil/ So my blood boils till it surface on the earth’s soil/ I’m a volcano!”
With lines to make you hit rewind, Tanya Morgan brings a refreshing and focused effort to the hip-hop game, despite their unfortunate individual facelessness throughout the album. Moonlighting shows that hip-hop is teeming with fresh blood, as shown on “Hahaha” that rips a Greek march and “We BAD!” which reigns as a big band epic. By the end of the album, Tanya Morgan fully infuses an enjoyable glory into a listener, who is ultimately left fiending for more.