“If you don’t have a mind of your own
Don’t be disappointed, this is fine, be a clone
Listen to me rhyme, I’m done trying to be mine all alone
And to make things connect like a spine to a bone
I’ve changed my mind, I’d rather be the same as
All these fake-ass entertainers
Make bad music just to rock in arenas
Use words like (no bad language on radio)
Cuz I tried hard to make a difference
Make the kind of music youth could use as reference
Everybody else say ‘Let’s dance’
Who am I to tell ’em otherwise? That’s a job for reverends
So I’m ready now to join the movement
Together press for negative improvement
Everybody unite, to forever end the search for light”
So begins “Crowd Mentality,” the final and most powerful song on Nigerian rapper M.I.’s debut album “Talk About It.” From there, things only get more sarcastic as he scathingly advises, “All black people put your mind on your shelf / It’s okay to be poor, be needy / Better yet, steal, kill for more, be greedy / Everybody get miseducated / Be lazy, fat, stupid with your mind sedated.” The percussion-heavy beat with its Neptunes style tongue pops is much less abrasive, but the tongue-in-cheek hook is unrelenting in blasting the herd instinct, commanding, among other things, “When I say sit, everybody in the place stand.”
As brutal and sweeping as M.I. is in his critiques on this song, it doesn’t become overkill because he spends most of the rest of the album cultivating a more upbeat image. This may be partly because of the sparkling production from his brother Jesse Jagz, who merges world pop elements with danceable drums and hip hop synths to create a lush musical backdrop for M.I.’s vocals. Not content to just spit sixteens, M.I. mixes it up well here, experimenting with the standard verse-chorus-verse song structure and throwing in some Nelly-esque sing-song delivery on occasion. Jagz’s beats are so sunny and M.I.’s voice so smooth that even serious topics get the palm tree treatment. The title track’s bouncy melody and addictive call-and-response hook belie the confrontational subject matter, as M.I. boasts of his refusal to be silent in the face of governmental and other abuses. The only time the music lets up is for the contemplative “Jehovah,” where this son of a preacher shows how you can effectively merge religion and music without getting overbearing or heavy-handed about it.
It’s not all weighty material, though. There are plenty of club tracks on display as well, including the transparently titled “Fast Money, Fast Cars” and the toker salute “Blaze.” “Teaser” featuring Pype is indicative of the easy pop sensibility M.I. conveys on a number of songs, with the catchy hook rhyming “girl teaser” with “booty teaser” and still somehow succeeding. Apparently the AutoTune knows no bounds, geographic or otherwise, because it shows up here and on “Forever,” which sounds like an Akon song minus the excessive sexual innuendo.
And just in case you were looking to verify his hip hop credentials, M.I. throws in the occasional straight-ahead rap track. The best of these is “Safe,” which will almost certainly remind of you Lil’ Wayne’s “A Milli” as M.I. flows for days with only the occasional break for a hook. He even approximates Weezy’s constipated-yet-charming vocal tendency at times. Along with the opener “Anoti,” where he fires off multisyllables with a Lupe Fiasco flair, “Safe” solidifies M.I.’s status as a well-schooled MC who will be worth checking for for years to come.
If he could have put this fire into his tracks a little more consistently, “Talk About It” might have been an ideal debut project. Instead, the album feels like it wanders occasionally, veering off course for a song or two before findings its groove again. And while the production is all quite good, it eventually needs a change in tone to keep it compelling as the good-times vibe gets a little stale by track 18. One or two all-out bangers wouldn’t hurt, either. That said, there are more than enough winners here to merit a purchase. It might not be the most polished effort, but you couldn’t ask for much more from a first release. A variety of subjects is covered with care, and M.I. displays a style that is enviable in its fluidity and adaptability. With a little more experience and a few more musical collaborators, he is likely to find a successful formula. Until then, “Talk About It” is easily worth your while, as it is as entertaining a debut as you will find. From any country of origin.