By TJ Love
Tanya Morgan is a rap group, and they’ve been one of the best doing it since their conception, as members linking up on the Okayplayer message board The Lesson. They’re internet rappers that don’t suck. From the outset, they received generous accolades and constant favorable comparisons to the legendary De La Soul. TM’s third member, Ilyas, left the group after Brooklynatti, but unlike their contemporaries Little Brother, there was no drop off in quality as You And What Army was just as stellar as the rest of their catalog. However, with their new record Rubber Souls, they’ve headed another direction production-wise and while it’s a solid album, it seems the crew has lost their way somewhat.
On previous releases, most of the production was handled by Brickbeats, Aeon, and Von Pea himself. This time around, all those duties fall to 6th Sense and a crew of live musicians. It’s exasperating to no end when Hip-Hop artists opt to go the live instruments route for the wrong reasons. Too often it seems as if folks still feel the need to justify Hip-Hop as an artform for people who will never see it as ‘real’ music anyways. For cats who had been fine using beat machines, the switch up, more often than not, is contrived, forced, and wack. Rapping over a jam band ain’t for everybody, b.
I voiced my concerns and Von Pea responded.
“Sometimes it’s simply just trying things…Our new project is live and it’s not because we’re trying to qualify as anything, you know? It’s a part of being an artist, trying things that are different for you in addition to improving what you’ve done in the past. We have a huge catalog filled with chopped samples and dirty drums and there will be more in the future.”
Fair enough. But something is definitely missing this time around. Not that the production isn’t adequate, and no disrespect to 6th Sense, but this ain’t the Tanya Morgan we’ve come to know and love. On the heels of a sick appearance on Quelle Christopher’s last album, Green Eyes, heads were psyched for TM’s first release in 2 years. What do we get instead? A bit of a snoozer. The fun and energy of earlier projects seems to have been jettisoned in favor of a LameNSexy vibe that sounds like a new millennium Common album, with better lyrics.
For Real is the opening track, and while its jazzy horns and keys give it some soul, the strings and lonely snares really highlight the fact there’s no knock to it, a problem emblematic to the album as a whole. Longtime fans will definitely be giving the side-eye when they hear The Only One feat Tiara Wiles, Mike Maven, Spree Wilson, and Rocki Evans. It’s a motivational song of sorts, with soaring choruses sandwiched between raps like this: “got a solid goal, execute/you gotta be proud of you…innovation is a lonely road/no fear, you on your own.” *Sighs* Thanks guys. This joint sound like it was in the DJ’s queue in the rave scene in The Matrix Reloaded.
Never Too Much ft Nitty Scott MC is cool. It’s a high energy track with Nitty playing the part of Bonita Applebum engaging with playful and surprisingly not-corny banter with her male suitors. *Sidenote* fellas do yourself and peep the video. Nitty Scott is BAD.
The Vehicle is easily the best song on the album. While a lot of it can come off as struggle-jam-band-rap you could hear at any college campus on the weekend, this joint could easily be some Illadelph Halflife Roots ish. It’s got three distinct movements, the first of which is a vaguely melancholic head-nodder by means of the Impeach The President drums and some mysterious atmospherics. There’s a quirky keyboard interlude followed by silence, then a hard-charging two minutes of frantic Just Blaze-esque drums, punctuated by James Brown grunts and horns. It’s like “Proceed” 2.0.
For those not familiar with Tanya Morgan’s work, this is a solid project. For fans though? Not so much. And as a longtime fan, I can’t cosign Rubber Souls. With the exception of The Only One Von Pea and Donwill’s lyrics are on point. The production leaves a lot to be desired. This isn’t who they are as a group. Listening to this album is akin to watching RGIII try too hard to prove that he can be a pocket quarterback, you just want these guys to go back to what made them great.
Out of 5
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