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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Reviews:: Mantis - Still Life

Still Life is the title of Southern-Ontario MC Mantis' debut solo album, and I think it's an appropriate choice for a hip hop album. After all, one of hip hop's great strengths is the ability to capture a vivid picture of a specific moment in time. That said, if an MC isn't able to paint a picture that the listener cares about, or can relate to, then that strength can become a weakness. For the most part, the stills that Mantis captures come out on the strength side of that ledger, but like many a young MC these days, he sometimes struggles to find a unique point of view.

What he absolutely doesn't struggle with is production skills, as this album is entirely self-produced, and it sounds fantastic. Mantis' bio makes reference to schooling he's had for production or engineering - and you can tell. The beats are all very polished, warm and crisp, and although I have no idea, it sounds like a fair bit of live instrumentation worked in.

The production might tend to steal the show on Still Life, but the vocals (from Mantis and his guests) are really well done, and some great songs result. Real To Reel pays tribute to the real portion of its name by praising the realness over a thumping beat with a really great drum track. The soul-drenched You Don't Know uses a fine, piano-laced track as the background for a track that discusses something almost any Canadian rapper is familiar with - the search for recognition. There's kind of a Simon Says vibe to the jangly guitar of Warning Shot, but unfortunately I don't think that it is lyrically up to par with that P. Monch classic. Then again, what do I know really, I'm just one of those know-nothing loudmouth critics Mantis calls out in that song.

Not sure what's in the water in the KW area, but there's something that makes MC's feel they need to try the double-time raps on at least one track. I wasn't really feeling it when Justis broke it out on his album, and I'm not a fan of Mantis' Bounce Back either. However, I am a fan of the Justis-Mantis (perhaps there's something else in the water that makes KW MC's choose "-is" ending names?) collabo What, which feels like a throwback, with a sparkly beat and some solid DJ cuts. Lay Low matches its name in tone, as it's one of the more laid back song on the album.

Although I like Still Life a great deal, there was something about it that was bothering me during my first couple listens. I eventually realized what it was: Mantis' "rappin' accent" (for lack of a better term). Now I'm not saying Mantis is a bad MC, I think, technically speaking, he's very solid, but his inflection and slang sound just a little too staged to me. Keep in mind, I could be way off on this, and so if this is indeed Mantis' at his most natural, then I do apologize. But another one of hip hop's strengths is its ability to be a form of nearly un-adulterated self expression, and after hearing Still Life, I can't help but feeling that I have no actual idea who Mantis is.

That last bit said, I don't want to end this review on the express to negative town. Mantis is clearly a talented guy, and this is a good album, so if you're interested in hearing quality Canadian hip hop, I'd search Still Life out. As for myself, I'll be watching for Mantis goes from here and hoping he builds on the promise this album shows.

MP3:: Mantis - You Don't Know
MYSPACE:: www.myspace.com/mantishiphop

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Posted at 3:03 PM by naedoo :: 1 comments

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At 7:39 PM, Blogger The R.O.B. did sayeth:

Agree completely, and said as much when I talked about the album a while ago.

I think, to me, it comes down to him trying to figure out why he is rapping - and trying to express whatever that is. As it stands, I think the album tries to be a little bit of everything, and while really good, could be UNBElIEVABLE the next go round if he "figures out who he is" as an MC.


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