Fellow writer Jesal ‘Jay Soul’ Padania has declared September to be another “UK Month” for RapReviews.com, so there’s no better time to check in with British producer Configa again. Last time Con took us “Pac to the Essence” and accomplished what few producers have been able to do – mix old Shakur in a new way at least as interesting as their original versions. That put him on my radar for future releases, and the latest of these is his “Calm Before the Storm Mixtape.”
Configa intentionally chose to feature both American and global emcees on this release, and likewise eschewed “name” guests to rap on his beats – that’s for a future solo project. In the meantime Configa is focusing all of his effort on the next generation, bringing up a slew of rappers you never knew before now like John Graham on “I Want You”:
“Uhh, I want this to be clear
I want the world to listen close like I’m whispering here
Come close, come close, won’t you pull up a chair?
Better yet, take a stand, let me know if you’re there
I want you to feel the heat from the energy, the pressure and the pain
The truth and the memory I struggle to retain
I try to refrain but denying acclaim is like
separating particles of fire from a flame
My desire and aim to inspire a change
supersedes any needs of arriving in fame
But I’m trying to remain cause discipline is easy to achieve
though it seems that it’s hard to maintain”
Hopefully those words jump off the page as you’re reading, because Graham’s flow definitely caught me off guard. The Configa conga drums and “ayyyy, ya ya yahhhh” sung harmony in the background of the vocals are dope enough to head nod yet meticulously balanced against John’s excellent oratorical delivery. He sounds like a younger and hungrier KRS-One on this track, espousing positivity and hip-hop consciousness, while having that inherent inner confidence in his flow to make you pay attention and not find his words preachy. It’s not every day you hear an emcee say denying his acclaim is harder than separating fire from flame, and that tells me Configa found a true diamond in the rough in John Graham and polished him to a near blinding gem.
Australia gets love on this album too. Despite having reviewed a lot of albums from Down Under in recent weeks, the presence of Nut Kaze on “Same Bullshit” was still a pleasant surprise. He has barely a trace of his country’s accent, which may in part be due to his gruff vocal tone, which can be best described as R.A. the Rugged Man meets a throat cancer survivor. You may not think this is a recipe for success, but you’d be dead wrong, because his voice is hypnotizing and adds naturally effective menace to lines like “shit’s ridiculous, these dipshits claim they lyricists/you fuckin idiots can swing on my nuts” and punchlines like “shit is faker than a white Jesus/on a scale of hot shit I’m molten lava, you’re a slight fever.” Once again Con’s beat is the perfect compliment – a gentle piano and occasional ice crystal spikes of melody over a lightly tapped drum and snare. I think hip-hop has its new Toxic Avenger.
Configa has packed a dense amount of music into a small amount of space here, giving us 20 tracks in just 68 minutes, with very few mistakes to be found among them. There are songs which make a listener initially suspicious like “There Goes the Sunshine,” especially given the rather cornball emcee names rocking on it – Corporal Asskick and Rockaway Jah. They might need to go back to the Rap Name Generator for a second try, but the breath control and flow suggest a well polished duo. As hard as Configa tries to dig beneath the dirt, he does come up with at least one rapper I’ve heard before in Big Meridox, but his “Lie to Kick It” is a very worthy inclusion. The song is pure 70’s blaxploitation funk, and ‘Dox promises to “run rings around your record label” in a way that’s both braggadocious and slightly menacing. He’s definitely digging deep for samples though, as I never expected to hear Seeborn & Puma’s “They Call Me Puma” in a hook until T.D. Francis’ “Thousands to Calm Me.” Even Diamond D would give Configa a D.I.T.C. approval stamp for that one!
Quizzically one of the few disappointing tracks on “Calm Before the Storm” is from Configa’s own Slept On Fam crew, as the noisy jumble of sounds on “Revolution” just give me a headache. It’s also fair to state that as much as I enjoy the London twang of Jaz Kahina on her “We On Fire” song, that accent may just be too thick for some Yanks. Jesal’s “Watch the Throne” is much clearer to the ear, and I suspect he may have meant a jab at Jay and Kanye with the title, though I can’t prove that fact. There are winners over and over again here, and when Graham comes back for a second bite on “Back 2 Basics” he may offer this album’s best summary: “That’s fine, I’ll sit back and wait/collaborate with Configa on a classic tape/so massive, the earth might collapse and quake/this is hip-hop, after the class of Drake.” Amen. There’s too much talent here to ignore in front of and behind the boards.