20-year-old Sudanese-British emcee MA will probably be unfamiliar to you if you’re not in-tune with the battle scene. A veteran of the 2007 JumpOff 2-on-2 World Rap Championships, MA has substantial pedigree in this arena and can boast freestyle punchline abilities beyond that of most emcees. Further establishing his supremacy this year upon battling former WRC partner Click in one of the most consummate performances I’ve ever seen in Don’t Flop battle, MA is now out to prove his worth as a full-fledged musician and recording artist with the release of his second mixtape, First Class.
Originally from Oxford, but currently based out of Cambridge, the MA moniker seems congruent with his choice of Britain’s two most famous university cities as his twin hometowns. Fittingly, the young rhymer is all about the words, the craft, and seemingly less concerned with the superficialities, the image and the need to pander to an industy of cool. With a maturity beyond his years, MA weighs strong lyrically and proves has his head screwed on – and though he clearly knows hip-hop, he’s equally comfortable ditching any adherence to purism by occasionally spitting over a pop and r’n’b instrumentals, and by forgoing the punchlines and the putting a dip in the intricate rhyme schemes from time to time in order to spin a more fluid narrative.
The most striking thing about First Class is that there’s great deal of commonsense and honesty exuding from it – and with it, MA’s amenable personality and a self-effacing sense of humour shine through. He isn’t in the least bit pretentious, and he seems unfazed by a need to impress by finding semblance in any street hip-hop purism; he opts instead for lucid, down-to-earth and relatable themes, and explores them with independent-mindedness. For example in “Politickin'”, the mixtape’s stand-out track, he expounds upon the hypocrisy of so-called “conscious rappers” and the delusional nature of self-proclaimed hip-hop role models. It’s a theme as yet uncommonly explored in the underground hip-hop domain, and thus shows an open-mindedness in a genre full of rappers “citing crazy guys like David Icke.” and “wearing Palestine scarves, but completely forgetting about the Palestine part.” Another highlight is “Scramble for Africa”, a narrative in which he distils a righteous sense of anger predicated on European colonialism and exploitation of the great continent and its people, all the while showing a good grasp of historical facts, and citing, among other things, mining magnate Cecil Rhodes and the naming of Zimbabwe as Rhodesia.
There are some nice token gestures in the mixtape too, one of them being the inclusion of a live show recording at a Cambridge gig where MA performs with a live band covering Alicia Key’s “Empire State of Mind”. Proving he can rock a live show, the battle emcee puts in a vibrant, entertaining performance with crowd-pleasing interation complete with lyrical shout outs to Kings College.
First Class is by no means an earth-shattering release, and nor does it display great creative musical impetus; that said, it serves its purpose as a somewhat grab-bag mixtape release, and will no doubt please fans of straight, no holds-barred emceeing. Not massively re-listenable, but totally commendable nonetheless.
Check out MA’s battle with former WRC partner Click. Hosted by Don’t Flop.