Who ever said females can’t rock the mic? Maine’s Sonya Tomlinson, better known as Sontiago to her fans, has put that womanly refinement back on the map, while redefining the importance of the feminine impact on hip hop music. Alongside the robust lyricism of Sontiago, stellar production from leading producers such as Alias of Anticon and Maker of Galapagos/Glue sets the tone for her sophomore album “Steel Yourself.”

With many musical influences while growing up, Sontiago embraced her own individual talents and artistry. As she began to write in high school and eventually creating a hip hop group in North Carolina while in college, Sontiago confronted the opposition of the male dominated arena of rap. Realizing her aptitude from the positive response received from her audience at an open mic session in Maine, she pursued her solo career and eventually released her debut album “Abuse My Adoration” in 2004.

Adding to her already extensive hip hop background, Sontiago has also dabbed in being a member of pop-rock group, a funk band, and spins Dub. It is no wonder that her eclectic style extends throughout “Steel Yourself” as we partake on this personal, yet poignant roller coaster of an album that is about “bracing for the unknown.”

With this in mind, the title of Sontiago’s “Steel Yourself” is in reference to the Christian Science Monitor reporter, Jill Carroll, who was seized in Baghdad and later released. A woman from the State Department called Jill’s mother to break the news to her as she said, “Steel yourself, Mrs. Carroll. Your daughter has been abducted and her translator killed.”

Sontiago continues to dissect her own emotions and sentiment she has been subjected to in her life in “Steel Yourself.” With production from The Lin and Boondocks in “Faith Not Fear,” she expresses the apprehension in getting married and realizes to have faith rather than fear, an idiom her therapist tells her to repeat in her head. A prolonged string introduction sets the tone for the track while slowly introducing a hard bass summoned by Sontiago’s resounding lyrics. Long time friend dilly dilly’s vocal’s are introduced in the chorus as the beat silences and breaks.

“Force It” combats the truth about relationships and the difficulties of changing the negative into something positive. Compelling, yet almost hypnotizing opera vocals from Amie Lavway encompass the track in the background of Sontiago’s verses that speak the truth as she says, “You can’t change who you are born to be/When there’s a will/There’s a way/You can’t force it.”

Out of frustration and love, “Potential Paralysis” is addressed to an unnamed inspiration who continues to struggle while not knowing where or how to break away from the distress. With Xczircles production of haphazard flutes, Sontiago is determined to speak the truth as she professes:

“Soak up other’s new experience
Even when your choice turns bad
Bring you down
Bring out the worst
Compromise and go for what you can’t have
Watching you waste away 
Shield my eyes and fear the outcome 
Seen you prosper from exposure 
So go on ahead and get you some
Destiny is really your choice 
So I’ll assume that you wanna be there
In the meantime I won’t judge you 
An throw it out there that I care
It’s not about where you spend our time but what you do with it”

In a creative manner, Sontiago and dilly dilly’s lyrics were written separately in “Hide and Seek,” but together becomes one cohesive track to cope with the break-up blues. P. Nice of Small Stone Houses infuses the track with psychedelic, echoing sounds, yet retaining the funk aspect to it all. Sontiago makes reference to Emily Dickinson to help ease the pain as she says:

“Emily Dickinson’s sonnets running through your head
‘My life has stood a loaded gun in corner
until a day the owner passed, identified, and carried me away.’
Final Harvest 307 is what she represents
Going from pair to solo is right cause to lament”

Inspired by Mike Day’s New Orleans photos after Hurricane Katrina and the repercussions that followed the tragedy, Sontiago confronts the realities of all the lives lost along with the segregation still prevalent today. The truth in the band Babe Ruth’s track “We People Who Are Darker than Blue” written by Curtis Mayfield, is sampled with the help of Pore’s production to unveil the realism to the calamity. Sontiago also pays homage to a volunteer who did relief work in New Orleans and died in the track “Meg Perry.” Using only her bold lyricism and a Casio keyboard, Sontiago exposes the lack of gratitude and ungratefulness for those who risked their lives to save others. R. I. P. Meg Perry.

Sontiago takes us on an interpretive journey of self-exploration and realism in “Steel Yourself” that unmasks both the dark and soft side to this unparalleled femcee. With her sleeve notes consisting of an extensive commentary of each track, there is no way to misinterpret any of her convictions and thoughts. What you see is what you get. A wide array of production with the emergence of Alias’ beats in “Crush the Rainbow” and “Got Me, I Got You” along with Maker’s beats in “Come Out On Top” are choice tracks that should not be passed up by any means. Fearless in her lyricism and fierce in delivery, Sontiago seeks out realms in hip hop visited by few as she keeps it raw from beginning to end. Acknowledged as one of URB’s “Next 100 Up and Coming Artists of 2007,” Sontiago brings some forceful competition to an otherwise heavily male influenced territory. Am I biased being a female myself? No. This is pure, unadulterated talent, femcee or not.

Sontiago :: Steel Yourself
8Overall Score