Sunday, 2 March 2003

Album Review: Heavy Mental

Killah Priest has never been considered a full paid-up member of the Wu Tang Clan, but his contribution to Gza’s seminal Liquid Swords LP didn’t go unnoticed.

Strange for an early Wu Tang LP that Rza doesn’t earn a single production credit. This means that the beats are very simplistic, and the production is never especially dazzling. This is a mixed blessing. Instead of detracting from the album, it allows Killah Priest to be heard and since Priest is considered to be one of the most intelligent MCs around, this is no bad thing. Over the course of the twenty tracks though, this simplistic style can become a chore to listen to. This puts extra pressure on Killah Priest to engage the listener with his insightful words alone.

The first single and opening track, One Step sets the tone, a simple beat is coupled with what sounds like a sample from William Bell’s I Forgot To Be Your Lover. It is the lyrics though that set this track (and indeed the entire album) apart from the raft of Wu affiliated stuff available. Killah Priest sets out his stall to educate and inspire the listener, “Early natives related to the thrones of David / captured by some patriots, and thrown on slave ships / they stripped us naked while their wives picked their favourite / lives were wasted, in the hands of the hated / driven from the garden, now we starving in the martyring Sodom / they call it Harlem.” Elsewhere, B.I.B.L.E has Priest issuing a challenge to the priests who tell us to look forward to a peaceful afterlife while suffering in squalor while on Earth, “Screaming hallelujah / when we hardly knew ya.” It comes across as astute without being overtly preachy.

Other highlights include Cross My Heart (which features both Gza and Inspectah Deck – both of whom match Priest in the lyrics department). It’s Over is a stirring parable, comparing the end of a rapper’s career with the end of the world and Mystic City is another astute apocalyptic tale coupled with some typically barren production from Y-Kim.

There are some outright weird moments within the twenty tracks. The title track is another Priest rant backed by, of all things, a didgeridoo. Fake MCs also comes across as odd, in the presence of so many more laudable verses. The songs itself is decent, and the production (by 4th Disciple) is capable (it steals a snippet from My Little Brown Book by Duke Ellington and John Coltrane). It is the subject matter where Priest calls out, “phoney MCs”, that just seems a little out of place amongst stories of biblical miracles and black oppression.

Ultimately, the album is a good one, slightly marred by some uninspired production. As an MC, Killah Priest cannot be faulted, as an intelligent rapper, he ranks alongside the likes of Dead Prez and Mr Lif for trying to educate and motivate the listener. But unlike those other artists, the production on this album does not match Priest's lyrical ambition.

Oh, and that title... What in God’s name was he thinking?

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