Sona is a rapper/producer who is from two places not usually associated with hip hop: Cameroon, where he was born and raised, and Milwaukee, where he currently resides. He got his first taste of hip hop as a young kid listening to bootlegs of Tupac and Biggie, and started his rap career freestyling to Sega Genesis instrumentals. He and his brother had a group (logically called “Two Brothers”) that won local rap competitions in Cameroon. When Sona moved to Wisconsin, he continued his rap career with the self-released 2007 album “Man In the Mirror.” He also shot a documentary about Tupac called “Behold Something Bigger Than Tupac” (www.biggerthantupac.com). “African Juju” is his second album on his own Intercession label.
Tupac’s influence is all over “African Juju,” both in the socially conscious lyrics and the Sona’s flow and his tendency to accent the last syllable of every line. “The End Is Coming Soon” even starts with a Tupac-style adlib as he instructs the engineer to turn the bass up, before going into a Tupac-style track about the ills of the world and how the “end is coming so hard.” “Pray For Me” sounds like the late Shakur in his sensitive thug mode, as Sona pleads with the listener to pray for him over a pensive piano line.
That’s not to say that Sona is stuck in the 90s; “Africa” and “Go” sound like New York street rap, and “Monkey See Monkey Do” and “Hidi Yea Hidi Yo” sound like Southern club joints. These songs are sandwiched between tracks like “Take Ma Time” and “Ready For War” that could be almost be unreleased Tupac tracks. Then there is “Question Mark,” a five-minute “skit” full of voices looped backwards. It’s an odd choice for a filler track, and one that is best enjoyed by hitting “skip.”
Sona is a triple threat, singing, rapping, and producing. However, while he is capable at all three of these skills, he’s not great at any of them. The beats are forgettable, and tend to be synth-heavy and lacking in low ends. His lyrics are heartfelt and deal with real issues, but his flow borrows too heavily from Shakur. The result is an album that is more admirable for what it tries to do, rather than for what it succeeds in doing. Clearly, Sona has no lack of ambition or creativity, and “African Juju” is another step in the artist’s journey, rather than his ultimate destination.