Two of the most creative artists hip-hop has to offer have come together for a full album. Will the duo succeed in creating their masterpiece, or buckle under the weight of their own ambitions?
I knew full well going in to this that it was going to be a difficult review to write. Even as a longtime Myka 9 fan, I still struggle to find the words that accurately describe his music. He's a rather verbose rapper, with a vocabulary that brings to mind artists like Aesop Rock or Busdriver, but his style of rhyming is much more easily digestible, with a rapid fire, melodic rhythm that could be best described as Tech N9ne meets Bone-Thugs. Though to be perfectly honest, comparing his unique style of rapping to anyone else would be a great disservice to Myka 9, as his technique is so uniquely his own that to suggest he has borrowed elements from other mc's is almost insulting. Myka is probably best known for his work as a member of the legendary west coast collective, Freestyle Fellowship. Alongside other like-minded and uniquely talented artists such as Aceyalone, the group dropped two seminal albums, 1991's To Whom It May Concern, and 1993's Inner City Griots. The two classic albums not only cemented the west coast as a region to be reckoned with creatively, but also showcased the endless possibilities for the hip hop genre.
Now some 20 plus years in to his career Myka is still doing what he does best, creating absolutely enthralling, if not slightly eccentric music. On Sovereign Soul Myka again finds a worthy collaborator in Canadian producer Factor. The two had previously worked together on a full album titled 1969, and while that was a solid and quirky album, it in no way prepared me for the creative leap the duo would be taking here. The biggest shock comes courtesy of Factor's superb production. Whereas 1969 relied heavily on fairly standard hip hop sampling techniques, Factor switches gears here and instead gives us an album ripe with fantastic guitar riffs, gripping basslines, and otherworldly ambiance. He essentially creates musical backdrops that feel both undeniably hip hop, yet reach far outside what the genre is usually associated with. The album's title track, and "Hard Hit" are both perfect examples of the creative direction Factor is pushing the album in with their seamless blend of rock-meets-jazz-meets-hip hop instrumentals.
As any hip hop fan can tell you though, the production is only half the battle. Thankfully Mayka 9 has never been a slouch on the mic, though there are some minor flaws that keep his performance from being as memorable as it could have been . As I mentioned before, Myka is a very, very wordy mc. So wordy in fact that at times it becomes easy to simply become lost in his endless stream of rapping. I can't tell you how many times I reached the end of a song only to realize I had no idea what the hell it was I had just listened to. It's not that his lyrics aren't engaging or skillfully written, it's just the manner that he delivers them in. They just come at you so fast that you have very little time to recognize what it is he's saying. This does lend itself well to repeated listens, and hearing him rap lines like "Don't be dissing the ones you kick it with. It's ridiculous / Like smoking a cigarette but you lit the wrong tip of it" is not only impressive for its multi-syllable rhyme scheme, but also just a fun and colorful use of lyrics. Myka also sings, and to be perfectly honest he's not bad. This isn't the corny sing-a-long type singing that is so often used to anchor down radio friendly pop songs, but instead something that sounds genuine and soulful. He won't be winning a Grammy for best male vocalist anytime soon, but it does lend itself well to the overall atmosphere.
It doesn't all come together for every track though. "Sexy To The Beat" features some very impressive rhyming, but Myka's off-key crooning mixed with one of Factor's more oddball, funk driven beats is fairly grating. Likewise, Myka's rapping on the old school throwback "Heaven Up" showcases why he can be so hard to listen to. He delivers his lyrics in what has to be the most stoned, mush-mouthed way possible, making it near impossible to drum up any enthusiasm for the rest of the song. At the end of the day the album has all the right pieces to the puzzle, but sometimes it just doesn't know where to put them. There are a few moments here where the record collapses under the weight of its creative vision, and with the LP only running for 13 songs, even a few duds is more than enough to kill the vibe. This is easily one of the most experimental hip hop records I've had the pleasure of hearing in 2012, and while I can tell you upfront that it's not going to be for everybody, there is that select group out there who are going to lose their minds to it. Myka's rapping is second to none, and even though his flow is sometimes either too lazy, or too frantic for its own good, he still manages to turn in an hypnotic performance. Still, you might wanna sample this one before taking the plunge and purchasing it.