Melanin 9's Magna Carta (due to be released on the 3rd of December by Red Snow) has been two years in the making and is the London rapper's first album. The sound is a refreshing return to classic hip hop whilst staying firmly rooted in modern Britain. Magna Carta , at its core, is focused on old school hip hop values. In many ways it's an album that could fall under the umbrella of conscious hip hop, but M9 is set apart from other conscious rappers in the UK by having a greater focus on the stories you can touch with your fingertips.
The lyricism is cutting, observant and intelligent. Each bar is packed with M9's multisyllabic style and a flow that has an undercurrent of urgency. On multiple listens the scenes cast in these songs become clearer, more vivid and sometimes more confrontational. M9 has a talent for tight rhyme schemes that he weaves through a beat and most single lines have more content packed into them than some rappers manage in an entire verse.
The production style echoes 90s US hip hop with atmospheric samples and scratching (from DJ LOD, DJ Madhandz and Evil Ed). The tempos and beats feel particularly familiar to the golden age of hip hop, departing from the more abrasive and fast paced style familiar to UK hip hop now. Abstract synth sounds act as a backdrop for the brass and piano arpeggios, marking a divergence from its 90s roots. Beats aren't rushed; they build through the intros to the drop and end decisively, with most tracks being past the four minute mark.
It might be said that the albums central preoccupation is a feeling of anger and injustice. But it is the anger and injustice that is mostly centred in the inner cities. This means urban violence, crime and police brutality with themes of law, philosophy and history as undercurrents.
It also has a preoccupation with a very 90s ethic towards lyricism. It tries to be lyrical. It's a clear emphasis for M9 and most of the time it shines through with original images and rhymes and when it doesn't quite manage to reach the standard set for itself, it doesn't falter to self parody.
Although explicitly driven by social observation, a few tracks move away from that. Gene Of Isis is the first track, a moody instrumental with a heavy beat and sparse arrangement featuring jazzy brass. Five tracks later 11:08 serves as a short bridge in the album and a change in tone from the first third of the album to the latter. Landslide is a lighter song with a scratching intro by Evil Ed that sends infectious vibrations to the spinal cord. In terms of rapping it sees M9 allowing his focus to slide entirely to the lyrical and as such it has a full delivery and rhyme packed bars.
The album has a kind of grand design to it in its balance between production and lyricism, history and the present, atmosphere and momentum. This design is no clearer than in the album's subtle internal logic. Organised Democracy is concerned with how state violence relates to the democratic process and it brings up the distinction between the law of the land and legislation. The distinction between the law of the land and legislation is a right which was first put to paper in the Magna Carta. That is to say, the historic document, not the 2012 Melanin 9 album.
Magna Carta is a very solid hip hop album. Especially for hip hop fans who long for a return to a different era. It doesn't compromise its originality, rather it develops a style which is rarely explored anymore, particularly in the UK. It has a lot to say about the world and how it works and the presentation is a multilayered flow where as much care has been taken over lyricism, content and imagery.
If anything, it will probably suffer from its lack of compromise and originality as the sound is a vast step away from the aesthetic of today. It has few peers besides perhaps in the crew which spawned Melanin 9 in the first place, Triple Darkness, where a certain type of hip hop sound is being preserved and developed.
By: Andy Fletcher