Two years ago, a brilliant album called “Ancient Future” dropped and is actually the last British rap album I purchased. Having recently praised that album here on Rap Reviews, I won’t try to hide the fact that I’m a big fan of Cyrus Malachi, having followed his development since Triple Darkness’ “Anathema” came out in 2008. One of the few rappers that truly has his own style, a ferocious delivery coupled with an incredible vocabulary helped push “Ancient Future” towards the upper echelon of UK Hip Hop. Whilst highly adept at traditional street rap, it was when Cyrus united powerful stories and poignant observations with his metaphorical style that made the record stay in the CD player. Whilst “Ancient Future” ultimately missed out on classic-status, being let down by some monotonous production and an inconsistent flow (the strongest records were all at the end of the album), it had plenty to say. It’s refreshing to see that Cyrus has omitted American rappers from “Black Athena”, preferring to collaborate with colleagues from his Triple Darkness crew.
On “Godspeed”, Jesse Blue provides Cyrus with a beat that you could imagine Greek gods gathering together to drop a cipher over. Amongst a tracklisting as eloquent as “Black Athena” possesses, “Godspeed” is apt. Cyrus doesn’t reflect on anything too serious, but as the first song it lets the listener know exactly what Cyrus is all about – powerful vocals and thumping beats. “Contraband” is the embodiment of what made “Ancient Future” such a strong record. 7th Dan has produced a subtly vicious beat that Havoc would have been jealous of in ’96. It’s fair to say that much of “Black Athena” is musically similar in style to those great hardcore New York records of the mid-late 1990s, and Cyrus has such a deep, “I’ve been through some shit” delivery, that you cannot imagine him over anything else. “Contraband” is a great example of where this album improves on Cyrus’ debut, because where there was often a lack of cadence a couple years back, the Triple Darkness member has improved his ability to ride a beat. “Papercuts” has an eerie vibe that sounds like producers 7th Dan and Orchid sampled a female spirit. Featuring Ray Vendetta, Black Prophet and conveniently Tesla’s Ghost, it is your standard posse cut. “God of War” has nothing to do with the PS2 classic, but is equally graphic. A brutal account of excess and the karma that comes with it, Cyrus narrates what can attract young men in to the gangster lifestyle of selling drugs. Coupled with “Lions Den 2”, Cyrus evokes the voice of intelligence in an authoritative manner reminiscent of early KRS-One. “Temple of My Familiar” is probably the best example of Cyrus’ skills:
“Love letters and notes seem to better her hopes
will the eloquent quotes compel her to cope?
or will the devil’s reproach propel her to dope?
another tenement hope oppressed in a desolate hole
will she shine like twin suns, they bump her like Dim Sum
that shudders like Wing Chun
she’s at the edge of her precipice
suppressed in an edifice, dependent on benefits
come upstate for the celibates
the lust of degenerous, running from creditors,
fuckin’ over generous peddlers, incredulous treasurers
tricked by the sexiest of predators
bed hoppin’, sket droppin’
fallen from the sky like a dead robin”
“The Shallow Deep” has a bouncy production from 7th Dan that insists you nod your head. Iron Braydz and Solar Black join Cyrus on the manliest of collaborations. The booming tones of all three emcees are as hard as it gets, but at four and a half minutes it can get tiresome. There are flirtations with variety through the middle of the record, as Cyrus experiments with his flow by matching his cohort Skriblah on “Hardboiled”. “Dark Oleander” is a strong track paying admiration to the females trapped in the system. It’s not quite a love song but backed by a catchy Astronaut Bee beat and soulful vocals from Saab, Cyrus gives us a sample of his emotional side. The aforementioned “Lions Den 2” is a brutal account of teen murder and the lifestyle that leads up to it.
Compared to his first solo effort, Cyrus Malachi has improved his technique whilst maintaining everything that made “Ancient Future” as interesting as it was. “Black Athena” leans towards sounding like a British Killah Priest record more than “Ancient Future”, which is both good and bad depending on your taste in rappers. Content-wise, I can’t knock the darker themes running throughout tracks such as “Lions Den 2” and “Papercuts”, and whilst the collaborations and metaphorical displays of “talking big” are expected on most hip hop albums, Cyrus proves he is still a supreme storyteller. It’s a shame there isn’t quite the standout “Kemetic Love” moment here that stood out on “Ancient Future” but when there are MORE examples of just why Cyrus Malachi is so highly rated, it all makes sense. “Black Athena” is better than “Ancient Future”, featuring superior production that benefits the record overall by being truly cohesive. A bold statement I’m sure, but if you combined Cyrus’ two solo records together, you would have at least one album’s worth of classic hip hop, British or otherwise.