Mello Music Group – Persona
One of the best ways of looking at different “scenes” when it comes to hip-hop music (as well as music as a whole) is looking at the labels that defined those scenes. Sugar Hill Records was there for the rise of hip-hop in the mainstream. Def Jam saw the first great East Coast lyricists with Slick Rick, LL Cool J and Public Enemy. Death Row led the way for G-Funk, Bad Boy saw “jiggy” and shiny suits, and Rawkus brought us many of the “conscious” rap greats. The list goes on. Since 2007, Mello Music Group has been one of the leaders when it comes to independent hip-hop. Their artists are traditionalists, often making music rooted in traditional boom-bap style. Yet they are also forward-thinking, whether it be in their lyrical approach, or the way the producer approaches the production. With their latest compilation album Persona, Mello Music Group bridges the gaps between hip-hop fans, old heads and new.
Persona’s greatest strength comes in the diversity of the artists featured. Over its 16 tracks, the album shines a light on 13 different rappers and 10 different producers. Mello Music provides an impeccably assembled collection of talents from different eras in hip-hop history to share their vision on here. Verses from legends are peppered in with newer artists’ efforts. Masta Ace, Phonte, Oddisee, Apollo Brown, Blockhead, Open Mike Eagle, L’Orange and Kool Keith are only a few of the big underground names that contribute to the album. It’s hard to think of a better cast of talent for a label to play with.
One of the biggest problems that sometimes plagues label compilations is that the tracks can often feel like throwaways, with artists dumping b-sides from their individual projects on here to advertise forthcoming albums. This is not the case with Persona. Every individual who helped create this project brings their A-game. Oddisee, and Phonte aggressively tackle racism on “Requiem.” Ras Kass goes against conservatives with his trademark fury on”PNT.” On “Circles Around Circles,” Gift of Gab of Blackalicious showcases his technical ability to destroy any rapper that comes in his way. Apollo Brown gives Little Brother’s Rapper Big Pooh a classic soul-sampled beat on the breakup track “No Future.” The biggest highlight might be Open Mike Eagle’s “Dark Comedy Late Show,” also available on Mike’s excellent A Special Episode Of EP. It’s a perfect introduction to Mike Eagle’s observational wit, and it’s backed by one of Exile’s best beats of his career.
Those are some highlights, but there really isn’t an inessential moment during the entire run time. The album has so much variety from everybody here that Persona always feels fresh. These tracks flow into each other seamlessly, which can be impressive for a compilation like this. It doesn’t necessarily have the same classic feel as one of Rawkus’ Soundbombing or Lyricists Lounge compilations, but it doesn’t need it. Mello Music Group encapsulates the sound of the past, the present and the future of hip-hop on Persona, and the label should be a driving force for lyrical, underground hip-hop for years to come.4 out of 5
You can purchase Persona on iTunes now.