Is it possible that hip-hop’s best female emcee is: (a) fictional, and (b) not a woman but really a crew of three male emcees? Well, not to take anything away from hip-hop’s leading ladies (Missy Elliott, Jean Grae, Lil Kim, and Foxy Brown, to name a few) but, yes, it’s possible. The fictional female emcee in question is Tanya Morgan, a trio comprised of Von Pea, Ilyas, and Donwill. This trio’s members hail from Brooklyn, New York and Cincinnati, Ohio, and actually met on an OkayPlayer.com message board. Their debut, Moonlighting, hit the scene in 2006, an album in the same quirky vein as De La Soul is Dead (1990). Tanya Morgan has been building momentum ever since.
Earlier this year, they released the mixtape Tanya Morgan Is a Rap Group, the title of which was clearly aimed at the confusion surrounding the “Tanya Morgan” identity. Three male rappers under the umbrella of a female moniker? Is it a ruse? A joke? A gimmick? A novelty act? Rock bands might use a woman’s name in their band names (Alice in Chains, for instance), but that won’t do for a rap group. Or will it? These three emcees apparently mean business. “Ain’t nothin’ sweet about three emcees named Tanya,” goes the hook of The Bridge‘s “Threemcees”
Their EP, The Bridge, serves to connect their debut with their newer material, as they’ve continued to hone their brand of neo-golden-age rap—a term I made up to describe the Tanya Morgan sound. It fits those groups that seek the whimsy of the early 1990s Native Tongue Posse—especially the De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and Black Sheep variety—coupled with inventive flows and creative wordplay. Tanya Morgan’s willingness to try new things is a big asset, and always keeps the group’s music fresh, from the hard thumping title track, to the head nodding “Got To Get Done”, to the Planet Rock-styled bonus cut “How Long”.
Better still, their insistence on bringing back “real hip-hop” and likening their sound to “the golden age” is usually handled with enough humor to keep them from becoming completely played out and cliché. They also take on stuff regular guys go through, such as the rigors of their jobs (although they’re touring emcees, which is not exactly a “regular” day job), the difficulties of dating, and personal insecurities. They present themselves as real dudes, the type you can relate to, similar to the approaches of Rhymefest and North Carolina’s Little Brother. And so, not only is Tanya Morgan a rap group, the group is ready to move to the next level.