There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
He’s your pusher. Whether it’s outside the 9:30 Club during a big rap concert, sliding through the crowd at Nation, or hosting an open-mike night at the Kaffa House, it’s no surprise to see Black Mongoose hustling. Unruly locks stuffed in a knit hat or flailing wildly as he pedals down U Street with a bag of product slung over his shoulder, the dread is well known as one of D.C. hiphop’s most diligent promoters. So what’s he pushing this time?
Last time out, Black Mongoose, aka Derrick Scott, was buying print ads, holding record-release parties, and passing out cassettes of his first solo LP, Get Ready for the Future. He was smart enough to know that unproven product doesn’t sell on the streets; anyone who asked got a first taste for free. Future was a dark, cacophonic collection of rough beats, conspiracy paranoia, and apocalyptic messages smoked out with ganja-trade references. The disc’s most exciting moments came courtesy of its guest performers. And no, that doesn’t include Digable Planet expatriate
C-Knowledge. His sole verse was mediocre at best. The real stars were mid-Atlantic locals Northstar International and the enigmatic Nigerian-via-Baltimore MC known as Muyi.
Unfortunately, the project was weighed down by Black Mongoose’s rhyme flow, a sound that is—politely put—hard to take. His voice is grimy to the point of being abrasive, and with plenty of New World Order accusations spilling off his mind, the Mongoose tends to squeeze too many words into each bar. Anyone who has seen him perform live knows that it doesn’t get any better when the music is distorted through a sub-quality sound system at a venue with stifled acoustics. The album didn’t exactly take off.
But now the pusherman is back. And this time, he seems to have realized the enormous potential of those who lent him a hand the last time around. Under the banner of his own label, the newly formed Armored Records, Black Mongoose has released The Spectrum. The cassette features the familiar voices of Northstar and Muyi along with the new sounds of DJ Supreme, Chi Garden, DJ Analyze, Jah Gift, Child Insane, DJ Sest One, and the Prodigal.
The Spectrum is a decent compilation with a few serious snags. It kicks off strong with the title cut, featuring Black Mongoose himself, Muyi, Northstar, and Supreme on the turntables. Chi Garden is a duo of female MCs, Kindred and Meridian, hailing from Chi-Town and the Garden State, respectively. Both sound noticeably unsure and untested, but each of their verses is colorful and reflective. Whether it was simply a matter of scheduling conflicts or rumored conflicts of interest, it is disappointing that Chi Garden appears only once on the compilation.
Longtime Black Mongoose associates Northstar hold down more than a couple of cuts, including their own effort, “Masterpiece.” Sky, the biracial linchpin of the group, has an intricate yet crisp delivery. His rhymes are chock-full of metaphor and message. His partner, Gold Kid, stands out considerably less, but that’s usually the way it is with rap duos.
The weakest link on the record is, once again, Black Mongoose. His production is hit-or-miss. Although “The Spectrum” and the roots reggae-fied “Destiny Couldn’t Wait” are decent tracks, “Burn” and “Gift From God” are lazy beats with all-too-obvious sample use. (Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved”; the Honeydrippers’ “Impeach the President”? Come on, not again.)
And, of course, Black Mongoose’s signature muddy vocals are still there. On high-BPM tracks like “Burn,” the guy just can’t keep up. Even he knows his fan base is limited, rapping, “Muyi’s my favorite rapper, but also my one fan.” But, for one brief moment of clarity, Mongoose cuts down on the grime and the growling and slows up the pace: “Rainbow Country” is probably his most palatable cut to date. In the cassette’s liner notes, he describes the song as “Its Me reflecting and its me trying to have a little more fun with the music and not be so dark.” This song should serve as the example for all his future endeavors.
The Spectrum is not nearly as dark as Future, but it’s still a little murky. If there is a light piercing through the gloom, it definitely shines in the form of the clear voice and comical style of Muyi. This guy is a find. Originating from “Balti-much-more, to be more exact,” Muyi is easily one of the best MCs in the area. Record label A&R folks frequently talk about artists being “ready”—meaning able to record original, polished songs in the studio as well as put on a good show onstage. Muyi is as close to ready as you are likely to witness at any dark, underground, and underattended D.C. rap function. He’s quiet and unassuming offstage; you might see him skulking in loose orbit around Black Mongoose at some nightclub, hat pulled low over his face, nodding his head to the beat. But in front of a crowd, he virtually explodes, bouncing around like a circus clown with the charisma of a ringmaster.
Muyi’s rhymes are abstract, but just simple enough, and his voice is passionate enough, to appeal even to casual hiphop fans. Whereas Black Mongoose’s production is generally hasty and underdeveloped, the two tracks he does for Muyi, “Psalm 1” and “Pump Pump (Wisecracks),” meld nicely with the Nigerian’s personality-packed proverbs.
Black Mongoose is a fairly friendly guy and well-known in the D.C. scene, but it’s unlikely that he stumbled upon a stash like Chi Garden, Northstar, and Muyi through casual networking. It seems more probable that he has an eye and ear for talent. The Spectrum certainly isn’t his Big Score, but it’s impressive enough to generate a nice buzz. Muyi is without question the Mongoose’s best bet for getting his fledgling label off the ground. He might want to step out of the limelight long enough to push his Grade A stuff.