On “Never Too Much”, the fourth track on Tanya Morgan’s new LP, Rubber Souls, the Brooklyn-Cincinnati duo (with an assist from guest Nitty Scott, MC) summarily dismiss the following: red bottoms, fancy steakhouses, VIP club treatment, ice, Rolexes, Grammy awards, lean, floor seats at the Knicks game, HD flat-screens, and paper stacked in any amount other than what’s required to comfortably pay this month’s bills. Nitty, who’s a woman, refreshingly avoids rhyming “cutie” with “booty” in the context of being flirted with on the subway, and counts the charms of relying on public transportation and the power of one’s own feet over taking private cars around New York City. Here we have the rap sexes playing, at last, on a level field, and hip hop music as art reflecting an ego that’s sized more closely to yours and mine.
You’d be wrong to think “Never Too Much” sounds like a snoozer of a track; it’s actually one of the freshest backyard barbecue jams of the now expired summer and it helps Rubber Souls define itself as the perfect counterweight to 2013’s trio of event rap albums. This is third studio LP from duo Tanya Morgan (the original third member, Ilyas, left the group in 2011 to pursue a solo career). The crew’s reputation as one of the revered prophets for Native Tongue-era nostalgists was solidified in 2009 by their critically acclaimed sophomore record, Brooklynati, the last full length collaboration between MCs Donwill and Ilyas (both Cincinnati natives) and MC/producer Von Pea (from Brooklyn). The group met online in 2003, as frequent visitors to the Okayplayer message board and their earliest songs came together via the magic of file sharing which therein forms an irony: TM has resolutely been making hip hop of a beloved era with the help of technology that didn’t exist during the music’s initial run; Brooklynati may have sounded like a memento from days past, but without this century’s ability to get down digitally it may never have happened.
Brooklynati felt like an extended DAT tape reverie and, by comparison, Rubber Souls is tighter, leaner and more focused. All of the beats are all handled by 6th Sense, a journeyman producer who counts Dilla and Pete Rock as his two favorite beatmakers, and their influences figure prominently here. Album opener “For Real” re-purposes a live D’Angelo cut formerly heard (fittingly) on an Okayplayer mixtape. Von Pea raps that his fans tell him he “rocks like ‘94” and the “Native Tongues” name is quickly invoked by Donwill whose voice bears a strikingly resemblance to Posdnuos. Heads who yearn for rap’s Golden days will be happier for this, but like Phonte’s Charity Starts At Home and other similarly-minded albums with one eye in rap’s rearview mirror, Rubber Souls is too rich a tableau to be considered mere homage.
Placed alongside this year’s popular releases, RS conveys an entirely different type of message: namely that as hubristic, chauvinistic and self-worshipping as Jay Z, Drake and Kanye West came off, the spirit of hip hop music is still most accurately reflected in the proletariat class and its humble ambitions for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “Some wins are empty victories,” Donwill muses on “Never Too Much”, a lesson I wonder if Kanye has learned amidst his turbulent life as a celebrity. “The Only One” has an isolationist title, but is actually more of a clarion call for a strivers’ assembly, featuring a rousing choral arrangement and ascendant lyrical aspirations reminiscent of College Dropout era Ye or Lupe Fiasco circa Food and Liquor.
Rubber Souls is by no means a political album, but like the records of its forebears (De La, Tribe, Black Sheep) its positions on authority and confessional tone speak of minds that are weary from unlearning multiple generations’ worth of incorrect programming. Its take on women, for example, is twice removed from what you normally find on a rap album: “All Em” unabashedly expresses affinity for ladies of all colors, but also goes to great lengths to avoid the groupie love song tag. There’s one lonely reference to a “bitchy” attitude and its target isn’t even a person, but rather Hurricane Sandy: “I respect women but Sandy was bitchy,” Von Pea raps on “More”, which also features an intro where the MC implores parents to teach their child a musical instrument. I can hear the charges of “old man rap” ratting around in your head, and I’d say it’s both accurate and not unwelcome. Magna Carta earned the same label by some critics, but Jay entrenched himself so firmly behind his racks that the damn thing wasn’t relatable to anyone in the 99th percentile. When Von Pea laments the way time passes so quickly and strangely on “Eulogy”, I found myself nodding along in both rhythm and agreement, but this is coming from an “old head” who’s on the downhill side of his thirties.
There’s something to be admired about how Drake’s confessional Nothing Was The Same resonates emotionally (to men, at least), but in the end it’s still just escapist fun that sounds best half sober in a dimly lit room. Rubber Souls won’t elevate your selfdom to steroidal levels the way NWTS does, but it also doesn’t make you drunk off an ego toxin that’s poisonous to the ones around you. This isn’t meant to disparage the legacy rap of Jay Z or the dry heave of pure id that was Yeezus (I liked both of those albums, a lot), but when most of us look long and hard in the mirror, we see a persona that more accurately resembles what Tanya Morgan is showing us.
4 out of 5
You can buy the album on Amazon.