Evan Dale // April 12, 2018
Throughout its history - a relatively short but thoroughly storied one - hip-hop has never ceased to continuously evolve, spinning out one sub-styling after another and creating a storm of opinion, taste, and preference in the process. Most common of all is the opinion that something necessary and foundational has been lost at some point between the Golden Era, Gansta Rap, and whatever it is that we call the modern scene. Some say it's lyrical, some say it's in production, others say it deals with subject matter, and most say it's simply intangible. I say it's bullshit. Reminiscence, the fickle bitch that she is, takes many forms across the hip-hop spectrum, but one must remember that through change, nothing is ever truly lost. In fact, more often than not, the past is simply expanded upon, and those who were a fan of its roots will always find something to their liking within the bounds of modernity if they know where to look.
Brooklyn rapper Ur Maa's boundless knack for shuttling us back in time finds a new gear with latest mixtape, Ever Present. There have been few if any attempts in recent years more successful in unearthing reminiscence in balance with the positives of the present-day. And Ur Maa's success in doing so is in and of itself reminiscent of several of his fellow current New York emcees. Artists like Joey Bada$$, DyMe-A-DuZiN, and Kirk Knight are some of the artists who, through dynamic lyricism and a fondness for old-school East Coast production, have successfully blended both the advantages of the past and the present, creating an all-encompassing, era-transcending sound approachable and respected by listeners of old and new.
Ur Maa is the latest, and arguably the most intriguingly gifted to harness such an approach, and Ever Present is his latest bout that proves it, succeeding in all of its attempts to unearth something stirringly reminiscent from its sound to its physical makeup.
The poetically spoken introduction which prepares the listener for the removal of themselves from their own world and into the creative space of Ur Maa's prolific lyricism and Golden Era-inspired production is, for lack of a better phrase, just the beginning. And rightfully, at the end, an accompanying outro bookends the tape and releases its listener back to their lives. But what we want to focus on is between the bookends so graciously carved of old-school gold.
There is something undeniably 90's about Ur Maa's sound. He has a keen sense of penmanship that drives his meaningful and spirited storytelling. He has a dynamic lyrical flow that seamlessly adapts to its underlying production - which itself is of Ur Maa's creation and although formed within the modern sphere of cleanly engineering, still holds true and respects the influential past. And in that balance lies his true gift. He is neither an exact reflection of the past or a spiteful ripping away from it. He is instead the very definition of balance necessary to connect, through mutual understanding and appreciation, fans existing anywhere along the line of hip-hop's entirety. The perfect bridge.
And bridges, though constructed of many individual pieces and materials, must come together as a strong, singular unit. Fittingly, in one final stroke of genius not to be overlooked, Ur Maa brings us back in time with his decision to release the mixtape as a long, singular, running track. There is no skipping an element, no missing a key lyric, no avoiding the work of art as an admirable, collective sum far more valuable than its already pristine parts. Something about listening to it, though doing so through the orange box of SoundCloud, feels more like parking the whip, popping in a cassette, folding back the seat, and letting the auditory craftsmanship overtake the senses. A bold and artistically in-touch decision that proves again Ur Maa as a creative master of balance and atmospheric engineering.
He is equal parts antiquated reminiscence and a bold vision of the future. Everything we love about the past and everything we admire about lyrically-gifted and artistically-bound hip-hop artists of the modern age. He is Brooklyn hip-hop to his core and with the release of Ever Present, is bound a position at the dinner table among the ranks of New York’s finest era-transcending hip-hop elite.