Chances are very good that you haven’t heard of Mowgli. Not to be confused with DJ Mowgli, the remix artist, Mowgli the rapper is a rising star in the UK hip-hop underground, a J.D. Salinger of the rap world whose personal background and face are tough to find on the Internet (in most pictures he puts his hands in front of his eyes).
Despite the many different Mowgli tracks floating around online, 93 is actually his debut full-length album. At 25 tracks and 72 minutes, the release is too long, and carries some duds, but the highlights truly shine.
Mowgli likes sampling audio from movies or other recordings, and he likes rapping over dark, stormy beats (a la Nightmares on Wax or DJ Shadow), as well as hip-hoppy funk that’ll remind you of Jurassic 5 or A Tribe Called Quest. After “0”, a lyric-free intro (the final track is fittingly called “1”, meaning that Mowgli’s vicious rhymes lie between, in the fractions, which is a fitting statement), we get “Something”. A female vocalist sings that she’s “Still chokin’ on the limits of my dictionary”, but Mowgli’s vocabulary doesn’t seem to have any limits at all. His lyrics are fantastical, spiraling chain-link strands of phrases and images. “Spliffs burn holes in lungs twist the picture trying to play themselves jump from conveyor belts”, he raps. “Clutchin’ rosemary beads crocodile tears tear-dried cheeks for fun”.... What?
It’s easy to get lost listening to Mowgli. What do his words mean? Sometimes it can feel like he’s just yelling at you. This, many might counter, is a decidedly British element—it’s intentional, it’s the flavor of British rap ushered in by Dizzee Rascal and Roots Manuva. Sure, but Mowgli’s different, maybe even better. He just doesn’t always make sense.
However, the beats on 93 are often beautiful. “She” starts with sucking, repetitive thumps. “The One” and “Water” have infectious, heady beats that make you sway along. On “Analyse”, starry, twinkling chimes cut into Mowgli’s dutiful rapping/shouting, lending the song a sweet balance that it makes it more listenable than much of the album. “Analyze this from the other side of the spectrum of range outside the kaleidoscope”, he demands in between beats.
93 is so long that it makes for a listening experience akin to a novel. It’s not a concept album, but it rewards patience—songs begin to bleed into one another, his voice fills your head, his words spin incessantly like a tornado in your ears. But his blessing can be a curse for the senses, an attack creating dizziness, or even a headache. Occasionally, the songs with the most pleasant, trippy beats are nearly ruined by Mowgli’s methodical, strenuous rapping. “Funny”, for example, begins with sweet old school strumming and keyboard scales, but Mowgli kills the high when he comes in and starts rapping. He often speaks so fast it feels as though he’s spitting the words at us so quickly we can’t understand them, and can’t enjoy them.
“The greatest winners never say ‘Bingo’”, raps Mowgli, telling us that he’s a slow-riser, still working. He doesn’t need to be the Streets just yet, he doesn’t need Kanye fame, for now, but don’t overlook him. Maybe he needs a few more years, but eventually hip-hop heads will know the name. For now, he’s representing the UK underground rap scene with passion and panache. He may not be for everyone, but 93 is a triumph, even with its flaws.