“It’s been a long time (since) I made the rap world quiver.” – Afu-Ra
He’s not kidding. The last time RR covered Ra was “State of the Arts” in 2005, but after all this time he’s back with the late 2018 release of “Mazterchef.” Where has he been in the interim? Touring, recording, playing chess and honing his martial arts techniques. That’s not coming from the press release that accompanied this album, though much respect to them for actually pressing a physical CD in this digital age, that’s just the general amount of information out there you can find Googling his name. Ra has been conspicuously quiet for a long time, but owing to both the current state of hip-hop and political climate, it seems like an apt time for a rapper associated with both Jeru the Damaja and the Gang Starr Foundation to return.
“Crack your head open, my niggaz is ready to rumble
Yes we don’t leave witnesses, we don’t give a s**t
Afu-Ra, Big Shug, Jeru the Damaja
F**k around my niggaz leave you bloody on the cameras — Ru”
“3 Evil Masters” is a welcome return thanks to the Notiks production, DJ Premier style scratches, and overall throwback feel of the track sans the late Keith Elam (rest in power Guru). Speaking of those who we are no longer blessed with who moved on from the physical to the spiritual, Sean Price joins Ru and Sadat X on the King Khazm produced “P***y Clot.” It’s a dagger to the heart now every time I hear Price on a new posthumous track.
But is it really new though? There may be some cause for confusion here.
If you look around for Afu-Ra’s official discography you find that “Body of the Life Force ‘pt. 2’” came out in 2012. This is the same song only with a new (and admittedly better) instrumental, but it may throw people off who mistakenly think this new album is just that album but remixed. Happily that’s not the case — this one track is the only noticeable example I found. Other than that it’s all new material like the PF Cuttin produced (and Jerry Wonder sounding) “I Remember” and the thumping reggae heat of”Firetricity” featuring an uptempo Key beat and a cameo by Sizzla.
To say I expected Afu-Ra back in 2018 let alone 2019 is a surprise given I completely missed “Life Force ‘pt. 2′” over half a decade ago, so for me it had been even longer since Afu-Ra dropped bars than for others who copped that release. A lot has changed since we first heard from the “poisonous Taoist” back in the day though. His voice has dropped at least an octave or two, and on songs like “Cobra Clutch” he seems angry with the current rap scene. “This how hip-hop supposed to be/hip-hop supposed to be like me/f**k it, hip-hop is me.” Careful there KRS-One, don’t get TOO egotistical.
This song unintentionally revealed another point of confusion about “Mazterchef” though, as “Cobra Clutch” was the original lead single from an album called “The Master Chef” set to drop almost four years ago. One gets the feeling that Afu-Ra had some trouble getting the album finished, printed, and distributed but thankfully Dume41 came through to give Ra the finishing touches on the mix and then get it out to the people.
The question on my mind (which is surely on yours) is “Was a new Afu-Ra album even necessary?” I say that with no disrespect as previous Afu-Ra albums were well received, but it’s hard to ignore that he’s been hard to find and that the public at large wasn’t clamoring for him to make a triumphant return. Even without that kind of buzz that would go a long way toward making an album like “Mazterchef” succeed he still delivers enjoyable music that is intentionally and otherwise out of step with today’s rap styles. He’s obviously not going to fit in with Future and French Montana, but he’s happily a throwback on songs like “Spectacula Blackula” with raps like “Yeah strong like a gorilla/with this hip-hop s**t/on the street niggaz know me as a mic killer/the Thrilla of Manila, so deadly I’ll kill ya.” It’s simultaneously both new and dated because his references and punchlines reflect the fact he’s from a different era.
To say I couldn’t recommend the Rehkz produced “Make It Hot” with its Method Man and Biggie samples on the hook, or the anthemic “I Got You” featuring James Gamba would be incorrect. Like the majority of “Mazterchef” these songs are pleasant to listen to and easy to follow along to. There’s no excessive autotuning, no unnecessary flossing, and no attempt to cycle through a long list of the hottest guest stars available. “Mazterchef” is not an album with appearances by Cardi B and Quavo, and I’m fine with that. It just has to be said for the record that Afu-Ra for all intents and purposes feels like he stepped out of a time machine from the early 2000’s to the present day and the only thing that changed was his voice. That’s not… bad? He’s fine, the album is fine, but there’s nothing Ginsu sharp here. The tracks will slice through boredom and make you smile for a little while but they’re largely not cutting edge.