Mowgli - 93

by Charly Richardson Rating:7 Release Date:2010-04-26

93 is the debut album from London-based hip-hop artist Mowgli, who is not to be confused with the successful UK house producer of the same name. Both Mowgli and his label, Dodeca Records, are relatively young, and with 25 tracks running at around 80 minutes, 93 is clearly a labour of love for both of them. On his website, Mowgli describes himself as a "24-year-old emcee-artist-poet-social critic who has gained attention and acclaim through touring the UK and Europe. Mowgli has been actively involved in many streams of productions from sound art performance to installations and sound design". Clearly he takes a novel approach to his craft.

The first track, 'Something', is based around an ominous church organ riff and somewhat functional female vocals. However Mowgli is immediately engaging when on the microphone. At first you might mistake his lyrical content for being slightly clichéd. He talks of gloomy urban desperation, yet he does it in a unique way, painting vivid pictures depicting the everyday life of individuals with shattered dreams, disengaged from society and stuck in a vicious circle of poverty and self-destruction. He never discusses his own lyrical prowess or tough-man credentials (the lifeblood of many mediocre emcees). On 'Analyse' for example, Mowgli tells the tragic story of the drug-addled 'Little Miss 90s' over a smooth acid-jazz organ texture. This is 21st-century storytelling.

The production is varied, versatile and distinctly leftfield. 'Friday' and 'The One' are both based around beautiful soul vocal samples, with the latter augmented by luscious strings. 'She' seems to sample 'Pachelbel's Canon', complete with samples of shouting, philosophical musings and computer game bleeps. 'Back to the Bricks' is a particularly highlight, utilising beautiful sitar and classical guitar samples and deep, rumbling bass. This is followed by 'Boleskin', an eccentric instrumental skit with a female vocal sample and no rap. Indeed, a large chunk of the album is skits, and they are based around everything from old jazz samples to African balafons and bizarre electronica. The production is more successful in the jazzy, dreamy tracks like 'Poison', and less successful in raw and clunky tracks like 'Sky Diver'. The latter seems to be pandering to the grime market, yet this is unnecessary; what is particularly refreshing about 93 is that this is pretty much straight hip-hop in a city saturated by bashment and grime.

If the majority of the production is closer to the jazz-rap of US producers like DJ Premier, there is no mistaking where Mowgli comes from. His London twang is like glass; sharp but clear. When he gets going, Mowgli utilises breathtaking wordplay and internal rhyme. In one sentence, he might accentuate four or five internal rhymes, creating rhythmic syncopations which jump out at you. His vowels and pronunciation are lucid and coherent, and he never gets lazy. This is a technique usually reserved for acapella emcees and poets who have to try harder to put rhythm into their flow. Yet this poetic approach works well over beats. Mowgli's speed is relentless, with little room to breathe in between sentences. Yet I couldn't help feeling that sometimes the audience needed a breather from Mowgli's breakneck lyrical mazes (although I suppose that is what the skits are for). It's a shame that the guest emcees on 93 can't keep up with the protagonist. They struggle to stand shoulder-to-shoulder, and end up sounding distinctly average by comparison.

One of the main problems with this genuinely intriguing work is that it feels underdeveloped. Paradoxically, although this is a very long album, many of the tracks feel too short. Ode-to-hustling 'Tax' samples the Fiddler from the Roof soundtrack, yet it is over within two minutes. The strange structures and lack of choruses are daring and sometimes successful, yet I would have liked to see both lyrical and musical motifs developed a bit more. The eccentric production ends up sounding a bit scatty at points, and the album itself is structured better than the individual tracks which make it. Yet, being a debut album, this is only the beginning for this energising artist who has more than a bit of potential.

Charly Richardson

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