When The Soul Council, Jamla Records' brotherhood of beatmakers, added the celebrated Virginia producer Nottz to the team recently, label bellwether 9th Wonder tweeted, "Get familiar ... and be very afraid." Almost immediately, the Nottz-produced "Jerk Chicken," a cut from HaLo's new Mansa Musa LP, arrived, refamiliarizing Jamla listeners with the sort of hefty drum breaks Nottz had alredy supplied Busta Rhymes, Kanye West and Little Brother.
The move also reintroduced listeners to HaLo, the crew's reloaded, wild-card emcee. History holds that the 14th century Malian emperor Mansa Musa was the richest man of all time; recent rap history has shown us, though, that HaLo had operated at a deficit relative to his Jamla counterparts. His killer instinct outstripped his talent, resulting in lines that offered a bunch of cute quips but no real panache.
That's been fixed. On the album's first single, "Galore," HaLo emerges from Khrysis' muffled-beat vapor and showcases new ways to play with words and verses. "I feel like Maradona in '86/I'll score/The drama you're making, miss/What for?" The answer seems simple: because HaLo is suddenly worth attention. He's now an uncontrollable anecdote machine who can conjoin sports references, patois, baby mama love, Afro-centrism and Jedi code to make these raps the focus and not the beats, a common problem with Jamla projects.
It's not that the beats don't help, like on another Khrysis torcher, "Stop It." Problem and Bad Lucc join for the group stomp-down. On "Snow Goggles," HaLo shows he can deliver aggression alone and have fun, too: "Accelerations of celebrations, good occasions, presentations, swanky reservations/Can't stop, frisk, or pat us down/incomparable when I'm around/a radical of my sound/I get down."
Mansa Musa is billed as a collaboration between HaLo and the Wu-Tang clansman Masta Killa; fortunately, he arrives for only five tracks and contributes nothing worth notice. This might be Mansa Musa's only setback, one of many nitpicks HaLo brushes off during "Duck Alright." Impossible as it may be to leave this album unconvinced, HaLo gives you the option: "You're free to roam/like the sweetest language that I've never known." But the rapper finally trusts his own tongue, and his music is richer than it's ever been.
Label: Jamla Records
This article appeared in print with the headline "On hardcore pranksters, hip-hop revivals and more."