Folks Music

Artist: Mars BlackTitle: Folks MusicRating: 2 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Jason Newman

Mars Black, the Brooklyn-born, Omaha-raised rapper, sums up his life succinctly in the intro to his debut album Folks Music (Team Love), rhyming “I was born in the borough of the mightiest MCs/But in the Midwest is where I live and breathe.” Balancing standard emcee braggadocio with personal and social observations, the intelligent emcee falls somewhere between the raw anger of Immortal Technique and emo-confessional styling of Atmosphere’s Slug. Spitting with an engaging, storyteller vibe punctuated by occasional lyric-screaming, Folks nevertheless is hampered by sub par production, leaving the listener wishing Mars had more to work with.

Released through Team Love, the New York-based label owned by folk rock prodigy Bright Eyes, Black occasionally alludes to his rock ties, claiming to be “kinda like Bob Dylan rockin’ ice” and always wanting “to be the first emcee on Sub Pop/Slinging 7 inches of strictly hip-hop.” (He evens flips the chorus to The Beatles’ “Your Mother Should Know” on “Rollin’ Deep.”) But Black’s true skills appear when he gets personal (as he often does), as on “In the Street,” an ode to a friend who died. Opening with the evocative “The halos of the gathering angels glow bright in the sunlight/All eyes focus on the coffin airtight,” it makes corny lines like “We from Nebraska, all we got is beef” that much more unforgivable.

Where Folks flounders, however, is in the production, which, while clever at times, lays claim to extremely shoddy drum loops throughout. Producer E. Babbs knows how to skillfully weave strings and guitar loops into the mix, as well as various effects like a repeated whip cracking on the appropriately-named “Crack the Whip,” but Folks is consistently bogged down by what can only be a Fisher-Price “My First Drum Loop” kit. The end result is a frustrating listen that potentially flashes, but rarely shines.

Mars Black is definitely a name to look out for in the future. The emotional impact of his lyrics, which rail against materialism in Hip-hop and emote both his own personal experiences and of those around him, make the bland bravado persona only more unnecessary. Bragging about being the best emcee in Omaha is like throwing water on a desert and boasting about being “the best swimmer.” But the cat is an unquestionably gifted writer. Now he just needs a slight bump-up on the beats.