Underground Rapper of the Week: Muja Messiah

Underground Rapper of the Week is a new feature designed to raise awareness of rappers from all over the world who, if that world were a perfect place, would be more famous than they are. It will be updated every Tuesday before the sun goes down. Feel free to email suggestions of slept-on rappers from your city or wherever to: ezra.stead@gmail.com

Minnesota’s Hip-Hop scene has a reputation for being “all backpackin’ and hippie,” in the words of Minneapolis’ own Muja Messiah, who embodies the opposite of this stereotyped emo / conscious vibe. However, Muja also can’t be pigeonholed into the gangsta stereotype, either, transcending expectations with the revolutionary but gangsta style of Dead Prez mixed with the raw, hardcore energy of M.O.P. Muja has been consistently one of the very best guest verse assassins in Twin Cities Hip-Hop for over a decade before releasing his back-to-back masterpieces, the MPLS Massacre mixtape and Thee Adventures of a B-Boy D-Boy, his full-length solo debut, in 2008.

Muja Messiah has been a local hero for a long time, but started gaining wider attention with his song “Patriot Act,” a politically minded collaboration with fellow Minneapolis legend I Self Devine. Muja balances his socially conscious wordplay with intensely gritty and personal tales of his life running the streets on tracks like “The Madness,” as well as stories of the good life like “Get Fresh,” on which he indulges his love of clean, new clothing and the triumph over poverty it represents. in other words, Muja’s music covers many of the tropes for which Hip-Hop is known; what sets him apart from so many other rappers covering the same ground is his ridiculous flow, sporting an enviable vocabulary without ever coming across as a know-it-all dictionary rapper. The way he mixes obvious intelligence with hardcore street smarts makes him one of the very most exciting rappers in Minnesota.

Though he remains decidedly underground and unafraid to stay that way rather than compromise his integrity, Muja has made some big moves since he began rapping over a decade ago. The most famous rapper in Minnesota, Slug of Atmosphere, appears on both MPLS Massacre and B-Boy D-Boy, and Black Thought of the world-famous group The Roots appears on “Give It Up,” from the latter album. Muja’s take on the M.I.A. song “Paper Planes,” featuring Minnesota by way of Ghana rapper M.anifest, also made big waves when his mixtape dropped, as did the internet favorite “Amy Winehouse,” which has nothing to do with the late singer other than a brief cocaine reference early in the song: “You know I got that white girl, that Amy Winehouse / Give it to the right girl and she gon’ dyke out.” With his new collaborative project, Villa Rosa, featuring fellow Twin Cities rapper and singer Maria Isa, Muja Messiah is definitely an emcee to watch out for.


Chromeo: Business Casual

RIYL: Cameo, Zapp, Hall & Oates

If you’ve ever flipped the collar on an Izod shirt, owned a pair of Bugle Boy jeans, or purchased Hall & Oates’ Rock ‘n’ Soul, Part One on cassette or vinyl, Chromeo is your custom-built funky time machine – a synthy, vocoder-soaked trip to a parallel reality where musical history stopped in 1984. It was a pretty nifty trick the first couple of times around – and their last release, 2007’s Fancy Footwork, earned them a Daryl Hall endorsement and the ironic love of an audience too young to remember Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down – but most tributes to dead genres wear thin pretty quickly (see: Darkness, The). So it would be a mistake to expect similar results from their next album, right?


Maybe not. Business Casual doesn’t really add anything new to the Chromeo formula, but it doesn’t really need to – whether or not you believe P-Thugg and Dave 1 are serious, they’re really good at recreating that early ’80s vibe, to the point where you might find yourself wondering if you requested “The Right Type” on your local Top 40 station 25 years ago. Everything, from the buzzy synths to the soulful-but-not-too-soulful vocals, sounds like it’s being beamed in from a giant boom box on the planet Atari – and more importantly, the songs are as clever as they are catchy. It’s ultimately a fairly empty exercise, and if you’re old enough to remember when this sort of stuff was originally being made, it probably seems more than a little ridiculous to be witnessing a revival of something that was regarded as inherently disposable even when it was popular. What’s sillier, though: the idea of a band intentionally mimicking yacht soul, or the fact that Lil Wayne’s “Lollipop” spent five weeks at Number One?

In the long run, it’ll be interesting to see where Chromeo takes this; even the artists they’re imitating moved on eventually, never to return. But hey, if they can deliver three albums that do this much with such a paper-thin gimmick, there might not be anything they can’t do. Break out the velour and pass the cocaine. (Atlantic 2010)

Chromeo MySpace page