Baltimore underground MC Labtekwon projects a multi-sided persona on his career retrospective Song of the Sovereign. Collecting tracks from 8 albums that he released on Anh Ba Records, the Mush Records-released CD displays a hip-hop artist with verve, talent and sensitivity. Labtekwon wants to show off his skills and make you think—he does both throughout this strong collection.
If the fact that these songs were recorded anywhere from 1993 to 2000 gives the album an uneven, at times nearly out-of-date sound, Labtekwon’s skills and personal style makes up for it. He comes off not like a wanna-be star, but like somebody you know who happens to be a skillful musician. While he doesn’t spare the chance to show off his way with words, he also seems more interested in getting his thoughts and feelings out there than in seeming rugged or tough.
Labtek’s style is low-key in a way—both gruff and smooth but never flashy—but his rhymes are written tightly enough to get your attention. He combines melodious hooks and word-packed verses over beats that are simple, with jazz inflections here and there, but have enough energy to keep his flow alive. He also seamlessly integrates a variety of styles into his, chopping words up quickly or rapping in a slow, meditative way depending on the subject matter of the song.
While here and there he raps about sex (“Perversion”) or hanging out with his friends (“My Crew”), and always seems ready to battle any MCs that question his abilities (see tracks like “King of Kings” and “Big Kid”), on the whole his brain is in a serious place, as evidenced by the heartfelt song descriptions in the liner notes (example: “This song is my history of being committed to this artform. Every word is from my heart and soul.”). He gives his music a spiritual side, continually conjuring up ancestors and starting off songs by giving “thanks and praises to the most high,” while thoughtfully considering the complexities of human relationships and societal troubles.
A thoughtful MC isn’t as rare as MTV might have you believe, yet what’s refreshing about Labtekwon is the way that he rhymes like a madman while making you think. They aren’t two sides of his personality that he splits off from each other, but omnipresent parts of his musical personality. “MC is a title I don’t take lightly,” he says during “The Art of Love”, a poetic call for personal and social elevation. Labtekwon looks at the creation of hip-hop music as a calling, a privilege and a spiritual act which places him within the deep flow of history.
// Notes from the Road
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