The line-up of Tanya Morgan has shrunk by 33% over the years. If your last exposure to them was “Brooklynati,” then you don’t know that Ilyas has departed, and now only Donwill and Von Pea remain. That’s okay though – they came back with a 2011 EP to show and prove they could do just fine as a duo. The concept behind “Brooklynati” still works even now, since Don is from Cincinnati and Von is from Brooklyn, so it’s fair to say that the more things change the more they stay the same.

It’s also fair to say that about the music of the latest Tanya Morgan album “Rubber Souls.” The irony here is that last weekGrant Jones noted this as one of his Top 10 of 2013, and it suddenly occurred to me none of us had reviewed this album. For my own part I didn’t want to step on any toes, since TM is traditionally an underground rap favorite, and I expected every single staff member would fight over the chance to do this one. As it turned out I was overly conservative – I’ve had this album since it was released and could have done it at any time. Since it’s still 2013, I don’t know that we waited TOO long, but we’re probably cutting it a little close.

“Never Too Much” is the textbook example of why I was sure the entire staff would clamor, claw and fight me to review this album. The video enhances the presentation, but the song is visual without it. Spitfire Nitty Scott, MC attempts to steal the show with her heartwarming authentic hip-hop sentiments: “Red bottoms and designer bags? It never really mattered too much to me/V.I.P. in the club on smash?/It never really mattered too much to me.” That’s the kind of chick you want to rock with, not the one who cares about how much you can or will spend on her. It’s a star turn for sure, but so is the warm 6th Sense production – meshing the lighthearted fun of 1980’s De La Soul with the 2010’s progressive hip-hop of Blockhead or Hodgy Beats.

The 50 minutes of “Rubber Souls” are full throttle, foot mashed to the floorboard, not wasting of your time or attention. Even throwaway bonus verses at the end of tracks like the aforementioned “Never Too Much” are spit to banger beats, reminding one of a Showbiz & AG or Pete Rock & CL Smooth, where you had the feeling the producer was showing off – my leftovers are better than your best-overs. The whole album exudes that kind of swagger musically and lyrically. Even the guest stars are feeling it. Outasight’s crooning on “All Em (Girls)” suggests he knew he was part of something special, as does Donwill’s profession he’s “a new school ‘Pac, Digital Underground” or Von Pea’s #humblebrag verse:

“Now I don’t know much about wine, suits and fine dining
but, I’ll bet a G on your spot and I’ll find it (I’ll find it)
No lie chick; I ain’t too shy to try shit
Don’t be too fly for my shit
I’ma keep an eye on her like Mishka
’til I’m en route like I root for the 6ers
I get over and you actin all casual
But you’ve straightened up your bedroom, haven’t you?”

The album has a live, slightly dirty, incredibly appealing sound. The vocals on “Worldmade” are carefully manipulated to seem blown out, like bad microphones were plugged into worn out amps, and yet you can still understand every word Don and Von spit. “For Real” feels like a live crowd performance, complete with finger snaps echoing off the walls, girls screaming and people having background conversations. The best word for the “Rubber Souls” album is ATMOSPHERIC. You feel wrapped up in this album – transported to a different place mentally and emotionally. Even a song with a somber title like “Eulogy” feels uplifting. It may have taken losing one to find one, so although Ilyas departing is regrettable, “Rubber Souls” shows TM had not yet hit their stride. This group gets what hip-hop is AND what it can be.

Tanya Morgan :: Rubber Souls
9Overall Score