The fact that the launch for Melanin 9’s debut album last friday at Vibe Bar on Brick Lane, a notoriously hard venue to fill, was rammed almost wall to wall says a lot about the reputation the Triple Darkness MC’s built within the UK Hip Hop scene since he dropped his first mixtape, High Fidelity back in 2007. With a conscious, but never pushy or patronising, message, ridiculously intricate rhyme schemes and liquid flows, he’s a lyricist’s lyricist, something once again backed up by the sheer amount of his fellow MCs from the London Hip Hop scene that showed their faces in support on Friday. M9, Genesis Elijah, Phoenix Da Icefire and other Triple Darkness affiliates had Vibe bar jumping, a rare sight normally replaced by stern faces and nodding heads.
I call it a debut album, but in reality M9’s got two highly polished mixtape’s under his belt already that are tighter then most albums, as well as playing a large part in releases such as Triple Darkness’s Anathema album and the Orphans of Cush Orions Stencil EP, so he’s no stranger to the CD format. Even so, the 14 track Magna Carta is a notable step up from his previous solo offerings with a masterfully crafted structure and a deeper exploration of themes he’s previously touched on wrapped up in a more cohesive concept while still repping that gritty London sound he’s known for.
Based around it’s namesake, the Magna Carta, a charter of law that was passed in 1215 and was the first document to be forced upon a King by his subjects, stating the law of the freeman and that no man could be punished except through the written law of the land, the concept focuses largely around human rights, freedom and oppression. It’s obvious he’s grown up both as a man and a wordsmith since his previous releases and he drops a lot of knowledge on subjects he’s obviously researched deeply.
With an extensive vocabulary he paints vivid pictures of both surreal imagery, such as over the boom bap beat and twinkling atmospherics of Cosmos, and more real world stories, such as on the incredibly deep insight into the darker side of inner city life on The Seven Blues, a slow and mellow track dedicated to the mothers of fallen sons. Madame Pepper comes in here as the first feature to sing the first of three hooks she features on, blessing it with a haunting style that really compliments the mood of the track.
Beats wise, heads like Jehst, Anatomy, Parental, Tony Mahoney and Ohbliv provide a fairly varied soundscape but with generally a golden age feel, updated to the times with more intricate melodies and layers a plenty. It’s generally a fairly dark sound, with echoing snares and moody atmospherics creating a gloomy atmosphere, summed up well by the shuffling drums and melancholic sax’s of Organised Democracy, one of the leading singles with probably the most angry, anti state attitude defined by the raw hook ‘Has freedom got a shotgun? Well you better go get if you ain’t got one’.
However, it occasionally delves into the lighter side of things, with more melodious tracks such as Love’s Stencil creating a smooth, laid back feel with a more soulful hook from Madame Pepper. The penultimate track, Colour Blind, sees M9 spitting almost spoken word over a light background of mildly rolling drums that more provide simply a soundscape to his thoughts and findings on the human conscious rather than a defined beat. There’s also two entirely instrumental tracks, the intro track Gene of Isis and, most interestingly, the mellow, bleeping electronic sounds of 11.08 that are completely out of tune with the rest of the album yet somehow work, providing a nice interlude almost mid way through.
Other than the aforementioned Madame Pepper, features are kept to a minimum with Triple Darkness providing extra verses on Heartless Island, an ode to England that poses it as a harsh land while also giving off a feeling of hope in it’s hook ‘We shine like distant stars in the horizon, craft this art from the path of orion. Crack bubbles in jars, straps leave you with scars, life’s hard on this heartless island’. Immediately after that, Roc Marciano adds some NY flavour to the open cymbals and crunchy drums of White Russian with a really nice verse, before Triple Darkness later return on No Man’s Land, a fairly abstract track that’s one of my personal picks.
I am quite fond of a bold claim or two, so I’m just gonna go ahead and say that this is an album that’s definitely up there with the best releases this year, and for me perhaps even takes the top spot. His style is sombre and brooding while also dropping a lot of knowledge and enlightening heads to issues we’re facing in the UK, flexing knowledge, vocabulary and an obvious knack for imagery and metaphor within practically flawless flows. It’s sheer technical brilliance makes up for the fact that, sonically at least, it’s not the most original release, something that I find it hard to complain about when it sounds this good. It’s also got a very tight nit concept and vibe, while switching it up slightly on certain tracks for a touch of variety that feels essential. As if to leave you with an example of this, he ends on my favourite track on the whole thing, Marble, which brings a tighter beat led by kicks and vibing strings and pianos. Ominous yet thoughtful vocal sample sections break up some of the deepest verses I’ve heard, exploring the inner workings of our anatomy alongside abstract imagery to end an album that I have a feeling is gonna be getting a lot of play through my speakers for a good few years.
Get more information about the album and find out how to cop it on the Melanin 9 website.