In a day and age where hip-hop is overpopulated with a slew of online mixtape releases and digital albums, it is becoming harder and harder for aspiring emcees without a big label backing them to distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack. One can argue that this is due to the lack of promotion that underground rap receives, but the truth remains that, save for a handful of artists who are able to bring something fresh to the table, there are simply too many emcees claiming to be original that are in fact recycling the same lyrical subject matter. Thus, I was skeptical when I learned that “Rule By Decree” featured Mikey Mo the MC rapping about “the present conditions of society and the struggling economy,” as detailed in the promotional release for the album. With so many other rappers also choosing to tackle the same issues, I wondered whether Mikey Mo would be able to add anything to the mix.
After a quick intro track, the album starts off with Mikey Mo establishing himself as the “Hood Politician,” representing the people and serving up tales of the street life. Unfortunately, a foreboding set of piano keys and creeping violin strings are plagued by a stale drum loop and unoriginal lyrics from Mikey Mo, and I feared that my initial suspicions were correct. Things improve slightly on “Warrior’s Soul,” which features a smooth horn sample, a quick stabling synth, and a flowing acoustic guitar loop on the chorus, but once again Mikey Mo never manages to really take over the track with his rhymes. The overall lack of creative wordplay is also evident on the lead single, “Freedom Ain’t Free,” an admittedly catchy track with uplifting brassy horns and a head-bobbing drum loop, as Mikey Mo spits:
“Hope the cops don’t find me
Look in the rearview, see who’s behind me
They shoot first then they ask questions last
They don’t care about your future or your past
It’s so bad, they kill young men for nothing
On the street while we learn how to earn something
Get a quick buck, do what you gotta do
Keep the lookout, make sure haters don’t follow you”
Simply put, while Mikey Mo is able to hold his own on several of the tracks with his steady flow, his lyrics can be overly simplistic at times and often fail to fully draw the listener in. There are certainly some bright spots throughout the album, such as the title track, which features a high-pitched, twangy whistle and a busy drum loop. The song has an energetic feel that meshes with Mikey Mo’s confident delivery, as he raps “The one and only, diminish niggas that’s really phony/I’m better for you, like pizza without the pepperoni.”
For the most part, though, the album’s highlights are found in the beats, handled entirely by Venezuelan-born producer Sanabria. “Ashy to Classy” has a laid back vibe, with the soothing bells and piano keys creating a mellow, elevator music-like tune, and a jazzy trumpet sample on the chorus rounds things out. “I Love Venezuela” follows suit, as a chopped soul sample and spacy piano keys make for one of the smoother songs on the album. “Make it Far,” on the other hand, has a more energetic feel, anchored by the triumphant horns that drive the track, as Mikey Mo spits a message aimed at the younger generation, rapping “Follow your heart shorty, never give up on your dream/ You only live one life, you gotta do your thing.”
Despite the handful of quality tracks, though, there isn’t enough variation among the instrumentals to make up for the lackluster rhymes. What’s more, there are several tracks that left me wondering how they even made the final cut of the album. For an artist who claims to represent real hip-hop, “The MC” sounds like it belongs on a Soulja Boy album, and I cringed as I listened to Mikey Mo spit three rather materialistic and clichÃ©d verses concerning his exploits in the rap game and in the bedroom. “Throw it at Me” is also plagued by an unoriginal chorus and below-average rhyming, and the club-oriented, radio-friendly feel of the beat does little to help to the situation.
As the album comes to a close, things grow even more repetitive, and with no real guest appearances to mix things up, Mikey Mo simply doesn’t have enough subject matter for a full length album. It’s true that there are some head-bobbing tracks and impressive verses here and there, but on the whole “Rule By Decree” has limited replay value and fails to fully captivate the listener. The tracks that deal with socially conscious issues such as urban poverty and inequality of wealth are still rather simplistic in nature, and the more gangster rap-oriented tracks are lacking depth, as well. Bay Area residents may want to give “Rule By Decree” a listen to support a local artist, but otherwise most hip-hop fans will find nothing special about Mikey Mo’s latest release.