While I’m sure he won’t immediately thank me for the comparison, the first person that Mozez Gunn makes me think of is Ja Rule. Although I’ll add the disclaimer “before he was wack”. For those of you who don’t remember that time, before Ja’s first official album came out, there were a few freestyles and verses flying around where Ja conveyed the image of a talented thug with a heart – the kind of thug who’ll show his dark side when the things he loves are threatened, and will then proceed to write lyrics that explain the consequences of his actions. The kind of thug who lives the hustle, but at the same time laments his involvement in it. You get the picture.
It’s all academic really, since this isn’t really the character anyone in their right mind would equate with Ja Rule these days and I’m actually here to talk about Mozez Gunn. But hopefully, this will have given you some idea of what Mozez appears to be all about. Both Mozez’ voice and his flow are rugged, but his lyrics for the most part convey a sense of hope. Hope to escape the violence and drugs of a ghetto upbringing, hope that he can live his life to the fullest, and hope that one day it’ll all make sense. “Carpe Diem” echoes the second of these sentiments with a hook built around the notion that it’s now or never and Mozez won’t be denied in his quest to achieve success and happiness.
Over the echoing background vocals on “Always Find a Way”, Mozez champions himself as a teacher of others, offering them to take some of his wisdom/experience and help it to overcome their own challenges:
“Won’t you hear me when I laugh, feel me when I cry
the secret’s in my heart; do no more than read my eyes
Read between the lines – therein lies the truth
so take a part of me with you whatever you go through”
And this pretty sums up the key theme of “The Litmus”; in the same way that the litmus test measures acidity, Mozez Gunn has confronted and assessed the horrors of street-life, and his album shows the results of those tests for the benefit of others. As concepts go, this is quite an innovative one, although in practice Gunn’s stories do occasionally sound a little derivative.
With a track crafted from acoustic guitars and synthesised bass, Gunn preaches about the necessity of perseverance on “Weak Hearts Won’t Survive” – it’s a cold world out there, so you’ve got to keep your chin up and live and die like a soldier. This notion is revisited on one of the most effective tracks on the album – “Requiem For A Dream” – where each verse tells the story of a person who has trouble dealing with the harsh realities of life. The straight-A student-turned bad mother/addicted prostitute of verse two may end up falling, as the third-verse fatherless kid who picks up a gun to solve his problems certainly does. But the homeless kid addicted to heroin in the first verse stops to think for a moment, and Mozez suggests that he might well succeed in breaking his self-destructive cycle. Let this be a lesson to us all.
The album’s central track really has to be “All That I Am” on which Gunn, joined by Will Brodie and Tracey Hill, sums up his beliefs and aspirations, and considers not only his place in a ghetto environment, but also in the music industry. The overall message is that you gotta love what you do and keep on keeping on, no matter what hardships you face, and Gunn’s flow matches the emotion in the track nicely with offerings like:
“You can forget about all of your pre-conceived notions
of what it means to be real amid stars posing
And just maybe we got it all mixed up
it’s difficult to stay focussed when your mind’s in flux
Let’s just take it back to its essence…”
Aside from the thugged-out typicality of “Green”, which actually breaks the coherence of the album somewhat, Gunn’s positive messages resound throughout almost every track on the album, which works for consistency, but becomes a little trying as “The Litmus” draws near its close. The epic techno-keyboard chords of “Rudamentary” (Gunn’s misspelling not mine) make it a standout beat given that most of the others are built around less inventive sampling, but the track suffers because Mozez’ flow pretty much imitates that which has gone before. “Bizness Goes On”, on the other hand, sees the man switch it up a notch to ride in time with the sparse, head-nodding beat and that, along with the light female vocal hook, saves this tune from the skippable fate of some of the others.
Ending in the same way he began, Mozez’ last two tracks are contemplative, and he continues in his role as a concerned tutor. “Mind, Body and Spirit” finds him questioning whether or not the love he and his girl share is enough to last through the hard times – is she prepared to put her all on the line for him? And then “No Need To Look Back” with it’s dedication to anybody who ever lost anybody encapsulates both the pain of lost loves and of lost people, but Gunn maintains his optimism and assures us that at some point in the future there’ll be a better way.
Although this album has moments of being tiresome, Mozez’ efforts are redeemed by the fact that none of what he speaks seems at all forced. True, “Green” may be a little out of place among the other tracks, but even then Gunn sounds in his element as he delivers more-than-competent rhymes. And for the majority of the rest of the tracks, while the subject matter may not be hugely varied, Mozez sounds like he really has been through the hardships of street life and heart break, and he wants to offer up his own experiences and thoughts for the good of others – it isn’t just a part he chooses to play.