This trio has outdone itself in crafting an early contender for best hip-hop album of 2009.
It might be an imagined combination of their hometowns, but Tanya Morgan's Brooklynati sounds like the perfect place for me. A park dedicated to James "J Dilla" Yancey? Check. A music shop named after Questlove? Check. A phenomenal soundtrack to the city that could play 24 hours a day and never become annoying and/or tiring? Check. Sorry, Rhode Island, but you just aren't doing it for me anymore. I'm packing my bags and moving to Brooklynati.
Alright, maybe not. But I would be there in a heartbeat if the city wasn't just an alternate reality created for Tanya Morgan's latest album of the same name. While this trio of emcees Ilyas and Donwill, of Cincinnati, and rapper/producer Von Pea, of Brooklyn, has steadily churned out solid music since 2003, nothing has ever sounded as satisfying as this record. That's not to downplay Moonlighting or The Bridge, which are both fine efforts in their own right. There is just something about Brooklynati that feels right. And that feeling never fades throughout the 15-track album. It's no easy feat to keep a listener intrigued today when blogs seem to have the "best new thing" every other minute. But Tanya Morgan does just that with a plethora of fantastic production and topnotch lyricism. It’s a record that combines the best of what we all loved from the likes of A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul with hints of Little Brother thrown in. Although, to be fair, Tanya Morgan isn't at Tribe and De La's level just yet, but this album definitely has set them in the right direction.
What's most impressive about Brooklynati is the fact that it never stops with the hits. There is hardly ever a moment when a track drags on too long or a beat just doesn't feel right. The only culprit in that camp is "Morgan Blu", which features Blu, one of Cali's finest emcees. His guest verse is spot on, as are Tanya Morgan's, but things become slightly stale around the four-minute mark. Perhaps this track would be a standout on a weaker LP. But on here, it's a bit of a disappointment. That's not to say it's bad. It just doesn't hit as hard as its cohorts. And it doesn't help that it's smack dab in the middle of the swirling Golden Age boom-bap of "Just Not True" and the funky love song "Never Enough", featuring a smooth hook from the lovely pipes of Carlitta Durand.
With that one misstep in check, Tanya Morgan tackles the other 14 tracks with ease. Well, technically 13 tracks since of them is an intermission that works to further set the tone and concept of the record. And, like any album worthy of praise, there is a little something for everyone here. Brooklynati's lead single and shit-talking extravaganza "So Damn Down" is easily one of 2009's finest feel-good anthems. But right up there with "So Damn Down" is the stellar "She's Gone", an ode to hip-hop in the vein of Common's "I Used to Love H.E.R.". Phonte, of Little Brother and the Foreign Exchange, graces "She's Gone" with a soulful hook that further drives home the track's message. Then there is album-opener "On Our Way", an inspiring take on moving away to a place where "we can be kings". And just as notable is the hilarious "Hardcore Gentlemen" performed by Hardcore Gentlemen, Brooklynati's infamous one-hit-wonder group. The track is essentially a chance for Von Pea, Ilyas, and Donwill to showcase their humor as they poke fun at Onyx, the Pharcyde, Wu-Tang Clan, and others while spitting over a quintessential early '90s beat. As you can tell, the list of highlights doesn't exactly end.
Further accelerating the album's pace are the stellar beats bumping in the background of every single track. The producers at this album's helm, which include Von Pea and Aeon, really put their foot in this one. Each aforementioned track is packed with beats that would make Golden Age-heads a little misty-eyed. From the drums to the soul samples to the creative use of instruments, everything works and then some.
Brooklynati is one of those albums that further proves the fact that hip-hop is not, and will never be, dead. As long as there are talented artists out there like Tanya Morgan looking to push the genre forward, hip-hop will remain healthy and full of gusto. The bigger picture aside, this record is simply one of the year's best with a firm spot cemented in my top 10 list, even if it's only May. I bid good luck to any groups or rappers who try to outdo the effort and quality of Brooklynati, because you will have a hell of a time topping it.