A lot of people want to know if hip-hop still means something in 2006. Short answer? YES. You may not think so if you spend too much time watching Viacom owned cable channels, listening to Clear Channel owned radio stations, or reading the traditional urban magazines that declare themselves the be-all end-all and know-all. The first thing that still means something in 2006 is that you can’t ever know it all. Putting egotistical considerations aside KRS-One is essentially right about one thing – hip-hop is what YOU put into it. If you’re doing something that means something to you – art, music, writing, et cetera – and you consider yourself to be part of hip-hop culture then it’s NEVER meaningless. No matter how many bad rappers flood the airwaves or idiots wearing iced out jewelry act like spokesmen for Stupidity Incorporated, they can’t take away the meaning of something that’s much larger than they are. Millions of people around the world of all races, colors, creeds, religions and income levels love hip-hop and participate in making it mean something every single day.

Take Sankofa for example – the unlikeliest of hip-hop artists given that he lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana and was born in Australia. This is not the poster child for b-boy fashions or flashy trends – in fact I slightly suspect looking at his wears that he shops at Goodwill. You know what they say about judging a book by its cover? Sankofa tore off the cover and threw it away altogether. All you really need to know about him is that he’s hip-hop and he’s doing it. Most of us are exposed to the musical aspect first – some from birth and some by discovery – but once that connection the world opens up to new ideas. Sankofa wasn’t content to let them percolate in his head and do nothing. Writing, rapping, recording, refining; a process that went by over the years while nobody was looking out in the direction of Indiana for the next superstar of hip-hop. Let me get one thing straight right now – Sankofa is not going to be that superstar. That’s not a negative thing. Very few people can reach the heights of fame and not water down what they do to make it more palatable to the public. Sankofa is not diluted or filtered in any way. He’s rough around the edges, with a voice that walks the tightrope between R.A. the Rugged Man and Pumpkinhead, all dirty and dusted. Without breath control, charisma and dope lyrics he might not be your first choice as an MC but thankfully he has all three. “The Humdinger” will serve well to showcase his writtens:

“If the world hands you a lemon, then give the lemon AIDS
Blame it on a monkey, and ship the dead away
Pretend it never happened then find a handy scapegoat
Just in case a curious George happens to take note
Get the alibis air tight like a small pair of Jordans
Gide the pain of an orphan
Fresh, dressed like a million pesos
But conversion rates speak Greek to the caseloads
Hate grows in minds made with permanent ink
It’s easier to know than it is to think
A spoonful of sugar helps the hooker go down nights
So now you kinda wonder what it might sound like
I used to hold grudges long enough to wear them smooth
But that got old and then my calluses grew
It became difficult to hold a pen correctly
Lettin my disdain for the trends affect me
Instead of writin songs about stuff that fascinated me
No peace, the robeasts grew strong from A to Z
The world was creepin in and leavin stern dreams
But anger’s a great fuel that never burns clean
Tou might catch me tunin into the pop station
Out of morbid curiosity I guess, raisin
expectations getting lowered again
The drink didn’t work so I sober the pen”

There’s depth in those words that you can dive into. The line “it’s easier to know than it is to think” resonates with me and says that this is a man who cares about his craft, while in the wordplay and vocal delivery he pays subtle homage to Slick Rick. ‘Kofa got skills. Unfortunately he’s trapped in a box called production. I’m not trying to be overly hard on producer Fangface because it’s evident he does have skills on the boards – beats are clean, drums are crisp, the overall product is polished. Songs like the simple “Emily Plus 2,” the heavy banging piano beats of “A Handful of Words,” the gothically dark “Stacks of Loot” and the breezy uplifting “Lovesick” prove dopeness. The album swings wildly between extremes though – “People Mover” shows it doesn’t always work to strip things down to just drums and a plucked bass, while “Barnburner” tries so hard to layer up elements and throw in gimmicks that it becomes total sonic overload. Sankofa’s well thought out raps can carry even the mistakes, but when Fangface strikes the perfect balance (which is more often than not, but not often enough) classically timeless hip-hop masterpieces like “Burn Unit” result:

“It’s the six-four tyrant, makin rappers catch Alzheimer’s
Turnin into mute skydivers cause they all fall silent
Posin with their mall diamonds, ’bout as hard as Paul Simon
Leavin the battle beaten watch the tall crawl whinin
Radial arm saw dark God makin alarms shudder
Buyin you the farm with a barn burner, the shark hovers
Better pack a lunch, that’ll be your final supper now
Alpha and omega, build them up and cut them down
A chop shop of syllables, smatterin of corpses
Lopped off and killin crews who battled in the fortress
That’ll bring the torches, no stranger to the torture chamber’s charms
Gut check, this is danger for the faint of heart
Play the cards that you were dealt or fold into a plane and jet
This isn’t a cipher, it’s another spot I came to wreck
My rep, you can’t claim it yet, so don’t even try
I’m Trent Tucker with the deep threat, you see the line”

Yes – even in a world where chains hang low and graffiti hangs in trendy art galleries, where people shoot each other over silly beef and the vegans are at war with the pagans, where hip-hop is treated like a commodity comprised of commercial trends for those with disposable incomes, hip-hop still means something. If a flower grows in Brooklyn, a tree takes root in Fort Wayne. Hip-Hop spreads not because it has to but because it’s natural to, and when you see past what everybody tells you hip-hop is you’ll know like Sankofa does that hip-hop is really what you make of it. Bling if that’s your thing or be a beatnik if it suits you, but as long as you’re not being fake it’s all “real” hip-hop. The reality of Sankofa may not be for people who try too hard to wear hip-hop instead of being it but if you move beyond superficial details like where he’s from and what he’s got on you realize he’s really dope. It takes a minute to get accustomed to his voice, but once you do you’ll find out that hip-hop “Still Means Something” to Sankofa and it will to you too.

Sankofa :: Still Means Something
8Overall Score