January 10, 2011

We’ll be highlighting overlooked albums from 2010 until we run out, or we get to Wu-Massacre — whichever comes first.

Call it Little Brother syndrome. Due to hyperbolic praise from the true-school troops, Tanya Morgan are virtually ignored by those who compare Brick Squad songs to Jon Voight films about Times Square male prostitutes. It’s a natural but unfair overreaction. I have a dream where we can praise Von Pea and Waka Flocka in the same sentence (and still be okay with making fun of OJ Da Juiceman and Joe Scudda). Admittedly, I was guilty of the same knee-jerk dismissal. Tanya Morgan’s 2009 record Brooklynati was hailed as a classic within the realm of “real hip-hoppers.” Since I distrust anything prefaced by the word “real,” I listened to the album once while shooting jump shots and immediately forgot everything about it. For some reason, I seem to recall it having a Talib Kweli guest spot. It didn’t, but it felt like the kind of album that would think that was a good idea in 2009.

The point isn’t to mock once-great Rawkus retreads, but rather to reassess what Tanya Morgan have done over the last several years. For those prone to branding anything remotely lyrical as boring, Pea’s Gotta Have It is a good entry point into their catalogue. There are few dull dichotomies about real hip-hop vs. fake and it’s light on jeremiads against wack rappers (admittedly, there are a couple). Thankfully, Von Pea primarily is concerned with sketching a loose conceptual arc:  looking back on his high school days in Brooklyn, when his only dream was to become a professional rapper.

Pea succeeds because he avoids saccharine romanticizing about the innocence of youth. Instead, he focuses on his hunger and burning desire to succeed. Thankfully, he avoids the tedious: cracking jokes, chasing girls, disregarding teachers, breaking for the occasional black soul dance party, and sampling “Summertime.” Even the skits are strong — more found sounds and random dialogue than attempt to be overly clever. Pea wins because he re-creates lively scenes rather than articulating dusty remembrances. This is a polaroid of what it was like to grow up in the Five Boroughs in the 90s, re-written in the wake of the wisdom and skill acquired in a decade and a half. Boomboxes, ciphers, and consequence-free high school logic, with few of the cliched truisms that typically accompany such regardant glances. Pea gets what most indie rappers never understand: how to have fun.

MP3: Von Pea-“Freestyle Live at Low Key’s”

MP3: Von Pea-“The Yorker”

MP3: Von Pea ft. Josie Stingray & Rapsody-“New Pair”

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