This is the third solo album from Lone Ninja dating back to 2008, though he’s also one half of the hip-hop tandem Twin Perils along with June Marx. The latter normally provides capable production for most of Holographic Pagoda’s releases, but on this new album Ninja reached out to British producer Blaq Masq to hook up the audio. You probably wouldn’t be aware of the fact he was British were it not for the fact he introduces “Fatal Peril” himself, “shoutin’ from the UK” as it were.
I tried to get some more background on the elusive Masq for this review but all I could find was his YouTube channel, which not coincidentally features songs he produced for “Fatal Peril.” One of his uploads is “Equilibrium,” well named for the audio balance Masq obtains from symphonic elements.
Being that this isn’t an instrumental album from Masq though (which I’d be interested in checking out) we also have to take a look at the mysterious martial artist Lone Ninja. There are three trademarks to his flow on previous releases: a fascination with militaristic imagery, a RZA slash G. Rap lisp to his vocal delivery, and an occasional lack of emotional resonance. The latter I attribute to the same disease that infects so many emcees trying to make their name in hip-hop: seriousitosis. It plagues rappers who think they can’t gain credibility without being constantly forceful in their words and deeds. The symptoms are easy to identify: rhymes that are more Grym than the Gravediggaz, a vocal tone that never wavers from its focal point, and no punchlines to break up the tedium. Take “Minefield” for example:
“Black cloud it’s Pearl Harbor
Back down it’s pure horror
Clap rounds and hurl mortars
World darker, have frown, the sure
Archer, smack clowns, restore order
Thoughts wise, I stalk, stride, assault spies
and toss mines; cross line, it’s wartime
Creep and slash, beat and bash
Releasin wrath on your chief of staff
I’m worse than a ghost
Insurgent who search and approach
You nervous deserted your post
Immersed in a cloak, you earthlings are burning and smoked
The curse grim, it’s curtains for folks”
The song is punctuated by movie samples of stern R. Lee Ermey types barking out orders to embrace an inner killer instinct. Pure seriousitosis. Now understand me when I clarify that this is not a bad song. Blaq Masq creates an enjoyable beat, and there’s something about the lisp of the Lone Ninja that draws you in even when he’s unable to loosen up and enjoy flowing to these instrumentals. Masq certainly does his best to keep things interesting on songs like “Recluse,” where he uses a sample of a rapidly strummed harp to give it a hypnotic and menacing edge.
Perhaps no track illustrates both the strength and weakness of Lone Ninja better than “Nightmare.” There’s no doubt he’s capable of stringing words together to create evocative imagery, but whether or not you enjoy the music depends on whether you can deal with verbals that at times are borderline to making him a horrorcore emcee.
“You’re guided to the crossroads
You died and then your corpse’s cold
My force grows, deciphering the morse code
Night is grim, silent when in stalk mode
Violent winds, frightening and awful
Nicest with the crossbow, arrows fierce
Timeless scripts will haunt foes, battle’s fierce
Shadows scares, lone will beleaguer
Have no cares, stoic demeanor
Pyschopath, I’m a bit disturbed
Rifle blast, got a twisted nerve
At last the surprise comes, your trapped
In asylum, you’re thrashed as you try to run
A nightmare from the start to end
I strike fear in the hearts of men
I didn’t fight fair and it’s callous hate
A living nightmare that you can’t escape”
Partnering with Blaq Masq for production on “Fatal Peril” does provide a change of pace that Lone Ninja needed, and does seem to bring a little more out of him as an emcee. Unfortunately this infusion of plasma is not a cure for seriousitosis – it is a temporary remedy at best. Lone Ninja is one of those perplexing emcees that I don’t have anything against yet which I can’t highly recommend to listeners due to the fact he seems convinced of this style’s effectiveness, changing it little from one album to the next. I’d like to see his artistic growth match his musical growth, but more importantly I’d like him to remember his joie de vivre every once in a while. It would be great to hear him laugh just once. If you can embrace the dourness “Fatal Peril” will be up your alley, though it’s one filled with black cats.