Configa is a British producer hailing from Newcastle who has spent the best part of a decade providing underground emcees with his brand of barebones boom-bap. It’s enabled collaborations with the likes of Reks and Chino XL, but Configa’s latest project is with Jahi, an Oakland rapper who has worked with Chuck D under the “PE 2.0” name. These weren’t quite the second coming of Public Enemy, but a spin-off brand that revisits classic Public Enemy tracks from Chuck’s illustrious past. Nonetheless, Chuck’s stamp of approval is no mean feat, but Jahi’s raps only pack a fraction of the Rhyme Animal.
Where the likes of Endemic and Beat Butcha have built their careers around the New York underground scene by putting a modern spin on that grimy style, Configa’s production on “Forward Future” is more aesthetically in line with the 1988-1993 era – which is often revered yet rarely revisited as frequently as its younger brother “the mid-90s”. Configa’s past releases have often pandered to the boom-bap sentimentalists craving that dusty New York style, and he’s found a fanbase that continues to enjoy these collaborations. Where many producers trying to replicate the New York style of yesteryear fall down is glaringly obvious – no originality. Something that I feared going into this record was that it would be stereotypical tribute-act rap, but fortunately, “Forward Future” does manage to lift itself above that (for the most part).
You know when you’re at a hip hop gig and the DJ drops “For Pete’s Sake” or “DWYCK”? The kind of track that legitimately sounds better when the volume is up – not just louder. The difference between hearing KRS-One’s “Outta Here” on your headphones and hearing it in the club. That energy is channeled through “Mindfulness” – the standout moment on “Forward Future”.
The mantra “less is more” can wear thin on a track like”Rock On” – it’s going to be too simple for some. Largely generic rhymes and a hook that leaves little to the imagination, it’s one of the less memorable offerings. Given the nature of the production, tracks live and die by how charismatic the emcee is. That’s ultimately where this record falls short. Jahi is serviceable, sharing honest musings with vocal characteristics not far from Blueprint (who himself mastered this style of hip hop on 2005’s “1988”). However, it’s difficult to highlight any standout rhymes or wit that makes this definitively a Jahi record.
Jahi shares some of his grievances with modern society on “Yes, Yes Y’all” but his pen game falls short:
“Thinking of a masterplan
Fresh like Dapper Dan
Took the test – 100% black man
With a mic in my hand, book under my arm
Configa heat yo, it’s setting off alarms
This combination can be seen by satellite
A champion producer and a king on the mic
Not a game like global warming
Treat the track like Ali did Foreman
Never corporate or mainstream, yo I live a different dream
God figure, bigger picture, going for chips and rings”
“Mindfulness” may be the joint to get the heads nodding, but “Fly” feels like the most complete song. The samples connect, the hook works and Jahi sounds natural over what can best be described as “Pete Rock-lite”.
The minimalist approach to hooks means some tracks lack a bit of life, something that could be remedied with some heavier scratches. It’s only really prevalent on “Yes, Yes Y’all” and would lift some of the songs from derivative to riveting with a simple vocal snippet thrown into the mix. “Ghetto Poems” definitely would have benefitted from proper cuts on that Andre 3000 snippet.
“Forward Future” plays to Configa’s strengths and shows some growth – the beats here definitely sound like an improvement over “Configaration Vol. 1”. Jahi’s statement that “Configa made a classic and a masterpiece” is straight-up delusional though. “Forward Future” is straightforward, digestible and scratches a nostalgic itch, briefly showing glimpses of something greater yet unfortunately falls short of being truly memorable.