Many are surprised at the degree of spirituality found in hip-hop. Islam, for the most part, swelled with devoted rappers. But it really shouldn't be too surprising considering Minister Louis Farrakhan is the leader of the Nation of Islam, and artists like Rakim and Public Enemy have been preaching loyalty since the '80s. The Islamic sect known as the 5% Nation is another popular belief system, with the Wu-Tang Clan, Poor Righteous Teachers, Brand Nubian, etc. being committed followers. It's not all about gatts and glocks, y'know?
But more to the point. I wrote a paper on spirituality in hip-hop a few months ago, and when I stumbled upon local rapper Prince Ali, I was all ears. Names are important to the 20 year old. First off, he named himself after a historic sultan, bringing in that Eastern influence. His debut EP is titled I Miss 1994, an ode to one of hip-hop's most celebrated years, a year which saw Nas release Illmatic, Jeru's The Sun Rises in the East, and Black Moon's Enta Da Stage. There's nothing that irks me more than an artist that doesn't know his history, but maybe that's just a remnant of my previous history major self. Nonetheless, Ali does know his influences, making allusions to several important rappers, including MC Shan and Toronto-DJ'ed Main Source.
Teaming up with Incise, the production is very down-tempo and poignant, perfectly matching Ali's equally heart-felt MCing. I could certainly do with some more 90s hip-hop revival (in place of post-punk revival, which I'd prefer died). Contributions from Craig G. and Kev Brown are also appreciated. It's no Guru and Premier combo, but for an obviously low-budget EP, this is a great achievement. According to his myspace, his debut LP will be released later this year, and will be titled I Miss 1993 (don't even get me started on how great 93 was!). I'll definitely be posting my thoughts on it when I manage to track down a copy, so check back then.
As mentioned, the EP is available for free download from Ali, so it's definitely worth a listen.
Free Download: Prince Ali - I Miss 1994
And if you're too lazy to download the .zip, here's my favourite from the duo:
MP3: Prince Ali & Incise - Drift (ft. Thieven & Blue)
By the way, if you're at all interested in the 5% Nation (I find it extremely interesting), give the following a skim-over, it was the main source (haw!) of my essay: Islam in the Mix: Lessons of the 5 Percent.