Mani Draper - Last Marauder - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Mani Draper - Last Marauder

by Jon Burke Rating:7 Release Date:

The Bay Area’s contribution to hip-hop is a legacy of frenetic hyphy, a million Too $hort’ sex raps, the party funk anthems of Digital Underground and of course the undisputed classic, “93 ‘til Infinity”. Now comes Richmond, CA native Mani Draper adding a much needed political awareness and social consciousness to the mix. Draper’s new album, Last Marauder, reveals an artist on the verge of greatness, showcasing his profound lyrical gift and versatile flow.

Last Marauder opens with “Ol’ Money”, awash in sparking keyboards and a tight trap beat laid overtop a muted underwater bass sound. For his part Draper dips in and out of a flow reminiscent of a young, more intellectual, 50 Cent. This should all be cliché – especially in a hustler’s rap about money and power. Somehow Draper keeps things fresh by allowing the whole track to melt into a plodding sonic slag heap that he then reforms into a bouncing, consciousness-raising, final verse about the folly of the game.

On “Find My Way” Draper offers-up a Nas-like reflection on the meaning of manhood in an era when men behave like selfish children. Draper meditates on his life:  “I know the man I’m supposed to be/ Let me find my way… Maybe I’m too much like my father…/ that’s all she’ll say”.  It’s an incredibly timely track in a year when the incoming President of the United States regularly throws Twitter tantrums and cannot accept even the slightest criticism.

Family clearly plays an important role in Mani Draper’s life. Draper’s parents each get their own track on Last Marauder. “My Window” details Draper’s infinite love for his mother – someone who always supported Mani for whom he’s now returning the favor. “Last Day of Summer” is a Common-style tribute to Draper’s father – a role model who promised young Mani the world. In several staccato verses Draper details the way his father sacrificed for his children and the rapper’s plans to live up to his father’s world conquering expectations. Both tracks feature jazzy samples and instrumentation over which Draper thrives – the man is ready for a guest spot on the next Roots record.

If there is a weak spot on Last Marauder it’s more about the record’s excess of perfection than any flaws or shortcomings. Guest vocals by Jane Handcock and Kate Lamont are pure, soulful technical perfection. The beats are tight, varied and crisp. There is nothing grimy, dirty or dusty on this record, it's pristine… and that’s the real problem. The perfection on display in Last Marauder doesn’t offer-up the grit of Nas, the howl of Tupac or the smoky basement jazz of Hieroglyphics – all of whom so clearly inspired Mani Draper both lyrically and stylistically. The track “Wake Up” makes an attempt at something rawer but falls flat when the slow-droning, reverse-scratch, beat fails to coalesce into anything substantial or even pick up tempo.

The closest Mani Draper gets here to the raw edginess of his predecessors comes on “Name Your Price” which opens with a Dave Chappelle quote about weighing the cost of fame vs. the price of one’s integrity/soul. The throbbing bassline, the driving beat and patois-heavy dub breakdown all unify into a hungry hustle of a track on which Draper truly shines as both an MC and a lyricist. “Name Your Price” unveils a fiery intensity that is occasionally obscured on Last Marauder for the sake of technical/musical perfection. Mani Draper has lyrical skills and a fiery flow at his disposal and he’s clearly ready for a shot at the title – it’s high time this Last Marauder gets that chance.

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