Epic – ‘#OPRAH’ (album stream) (Premiere)

On his first solo release, Epic (from the Chicago hip-hop maestros BBU) obliterates the boundary between personal and political.

His mother named him Richard Wallace, but to you he’s Epic, one of the most exciting, talented and fearless artists making music in Chicago. Best known as a member of the legendary rap trio BBU, he’s been busy since their last release, 2012’s bell hooks. For the past two years the artist, rapper and community activist has been hitting the studio with producer Stefan Clark and artists such as Tomorrow King, Kool A.D. (of Das Racist), and Show You Suck to create a batch of newer, more introspective songs.

The result is Epic’s first solo release, #OPRAH. The music video for the title track is up today. Born on Twitter, #OPRAH is about Ordinary People, Recording American History. Infused with same revolutionary spirit that birthed the Arab Spring and #WeAreTrayvonMartin, on #OPRAH Epic takes on big ideas from a first-person perspective. Racism, Communism, violence and addiction are all discussed in the same breath as video games, Duck Tales and friend baloney. As Epic himself says, “I love the contradictions”.

Fans of BBU will be familiar with the songs’ fearless iconoclasm and take-no-prisoners humor. However, it’s the Epic’s willingness to explore his own life that sets this music apart. Dealing with issues like alcoholism, abandonment, poverty and dreams denied, songs like “New Shit” show a new dimension in the rapper’s music. “Okay, this is gonna be real emo now, don’t judge me” he says before launching into “Letter To My Father”, slyly acknowledging that the this level of personal honesty is far from the norm in hip-hip. Walking a line between political commenting and more personal lyrical rap, Epic described #OPRAH as an attempt to “speak to my people the way my people want to talk”.

Of course, the spirit of black revolutionaries is still close to the surface on songs like “Family Tree” (which also cheekily samples “Eleanor Rigby”). Although it was recorded over the course of two years, songs like “Gaddafi” and “God Cry” sound utterly of-the-moment as America struggles the aftermath of voter suppression and Michael Brown. #OPRAH also reflects the breadth and fertility of the Chicago rap scene where it was born. Songs like “Do Dat At” and the title track all bounce with beats full of the kind of infectious swagger destined to inspired juking.

PopMatters expected big things from BBU, naming them a best hope to break out in 2013 shortly before the group announced a temporary hiatus. With #OPRAH, Epic has shown that that time off has not been wasted. A record this vibrant is a bold announcement that Epic is still a force to be reckoned with going forward. Hip-hop fans, take note.

The album is out today, check out the video for the title track, “#OPRAH” below: