Few things are more worthless than a rapper’s word that they are retiring from the game. Every year another rapper retires, and every year another retired rapper releases a new album. I can understand the urge to get out while the getting’s good, but really, how do you quit art? Sankofa, aka Stephen Bryden, is the latest retired rapper to go back to the recording booth after promising he was done with 2013’s “Just Might Be.” The Fort Wayne rapper figured that fatherhood, a full-time job, and other grown-man responsibilities left little room in his life for his side career as a rapper. Then a series of fortunate and unfortunate events (playing a music festival in Fort Wayne, the election of Donald Trump and appointment of Sankofa’s arch-nemesis Mike Pence to Vice President among them) convinced Sankofa to pick up the mic once more. The result is “Ink From Rust,” 10 slabs of lyrical goodness from a man who thought he’d run out of stuff to say.

I’ve been a fan of Sankofa’s since giving a very enthusiastic review to his 2007 release “The Tortoise Hustle.” His combination of rapping skills and Midwestern good-naturedness are something you don’t come across that often. He is a fierce rapper, filling his bars with intricate rhymes, but he almost totally lacks the machismo and posturing you generally associate with hip-hop. Age may have slowed his output, but it hasn’t put a dent in his motormouth flow and dense rhymes: think Aesop Rock if he was more caffeinated. On “Crimson Feather” he raps:

“Participants pretend to listen just to spit it back
They’re ruling our entire world based on minute math
Claiming mastery minus thought because they didn’t ask
I split in half with callous laughter after given trash
A vicious act, fly the black flag high on the mizzen mast
I grip the craft’s psyche tightly with a griffin’s grasp
So sick of sycophantic tandem banter, slick and fad
I don’t visit rap, I live with it and pick the scab
Watch it bleed profusely til the page becomes a crimson gash
A rhythmic path to follow, steps become a chisel’s tap
Chipping away until what remains betrays a simple task
A rhythmic path to follow, steps become a chisel’s tap
Chipping away until what remains betrays a simple task”

Sankofa and I follow one another on social media, so I mostly know him from the multiple pictures of his sons he posts every day (which also means this isn’t the most unbiased review). That makes “Ink From Rust” dad rap, in that it is rap made by a dad, but it is also rap made from someone who has the perspective that comes with being a husband and father. Maybe grown up rap is a less pejorative way of putting it, but either way there is a lot on “Ink From Rust” which has to do with looking at life from the perspective of someone who has lived a little. Whether it is criticizing today’s hip-hop with John Stone on “Rogues of Rhythm,” shouting out all the people that have helped him on the title track, or giving a intense rap about a deceased relative (a parent? Grandparent?) on “32 Kennebec,” there’s a maturity to the raps on this album.

He’s also having a good time. He’s firing shots at Trump on “Kid Gloves,” reveling in domesticity on “Lazy,” and firing some good barbs at kids these days and their mumble rap on the aforementioned “Rogues of Rhythm.” Production is handled by John Stone, who provides sampled beats. Kashal-Tee appears on half the tracks, relieving Sankofa of the burden of carrying the whole thing himself. “Ink From Rust” is a welcome return from Fort Wayne’s own, and another solid release from Sankofa.

Sankofa :: Ink From Rust
7.5Overall Score