Fifteen seconds into listening to “The Jesus Piece” I got completely sidetracked by the voiceover on the album’s intro. I spent ten minutes puzzling over why the malicious voice growling out the words “And now my formidable foe, you will pay for my pain in the past with your pain in the future” seemed so familiar. It finally dawned on me – Samurai Jack. This series about an ancient warrior with an impeccable code of honor lived and died on the Cartoon Network over half a decade ago, but thanks to the unique style of creator Genndy Tartavosky and the voice talents of Mako (featured in said intro) and Phil LaMarr the show made a deep and lasting impression on me – well that and the fact it was the only American cartoon I had seen to date that captured the Japanese anime style without seeming to mock it or water it down. To date the series has been left incomplete, with the lead character Jack’s fate still in question. “The Jesus Piece” however is not in question – it is a complete 14 track album which promises both pain and pleasure.
“It’s God’s blessings, reality’s message
But they don’t understand it so they quick to reject it
Nah man, you try to speak like you smart
Nah money, I spit poetry from the heart”
Nacirema’s a self-confessed “tactical rapper” whose real battle is not with an overwhelming evil like Samurai Jack’s foe Aku, but with the very definitions of what a hip-hop should be. Pinning down what Nacirema’s style is can be very difficult as a result. On tracks like “Spar” he’s a little bit Mobb Deep, a little bit Immortal Technique and a little bit Gift of Gab. Nac’ likes to shift his rhymes around, doubling them in his lines at times but still able to keep the beat and “murder a whole camp of MC’s for the hell of it” to get his point across. The flow can go fast or slow. “Fuel” moves leisurely pace on the plucky B. Grizzy beats until the chorus throws you into outer space with Biggie Smalls playing the part of narrator. The Keith Rager beats of “Ginseng” are as hard and fast as one of the alleged medicinal effects of the same herb. Nacirema shifts shape as much as needed to fit but the symphonic nature of “Knuckles” seems to suit him best – a puglistic rapper with a beautiful mind trying to delicately cram those disparate natures together into one track:
“Fix your face cousin, and get it right
Crooked smile characters – watch your mouth – always kept in sight
Never knowin what to expect once in the deep end
I’ll change one’s perspective every time I breathe in
Then I’ll breathe out a whole new route I’m goin all out
Livin life like kissin death with an open mouth”
Lyricism is definitely a plus for Nacirema, “American” spelled backwards but pronounced “nah-sih-ray-mah.” The songs of “The Jesus Piece” are as thought provoking as his title, which is meant not to reflect the kind of flashy bling most mainstream rappers wear. Instead his personal Jesus is his poetry, and it’s that rap which he wears like a badge of courage in a harsh environment where tiny imprints have to compete against major labels with million dollar budgets. The rap is typically on point even when the beats lack or the production quality distorts his otherwise clear points. It’s also a minor thing to quibble about but the artwork and the insert both use font and color choices which make it hard to read the tracklisting or production notes. That makes “The Jesus Piece” a challenge both to find in stores and a challenge to comprehend once you do, but the more I listen to Nacirema the more I perceive that he’s worth the effort.