“Please don’t call me conscious/Don’t call it political/Please don’t deem this lyrical/These are negro spirituals,” Kemba mutters on the second track of his newest project Negus. These lyrics set the tone for this forebodingly beautiful album, and bring up a more potent point about hip-hop in general. Negus is not an album about black empowerment, it’s an album about striving for black excellence.

These last few years have seen an explosion in the political rap scene. 2016, however,  has had fewer rappers claiming to be “conscious” than ever. If you listen to artists themselves, conscious rap is all but dead. In reality, its face is just changing. There is a new wave of political rap rising. It is intense, measured and has been spearheaded by artists like Kendrick Lamar who refuse to go by the label of “conscious.”

This generation does not want to be defined by our predecessors. Conscious rap has never been characterized or embraced as “cool” and this has only worsened with age. This new wave of politically minded, “woke” hip-hop has a different focus than much of the late 90’s conscious rap, but at its core still preaches the unity and community love that artists like Mos Def and Talib Kweli delivered on Blackstar 15 years ago.

Kemba (fka YC the Cynic) hates the “conscious” label like many others, but his new album, Negus, echoes many of the the centralizing ideas represented by every conscious rapper before him. Where he differs is that he does not preach black beauty. He believes all black people are inherently beautiful, but emphasizes that we have to strive to be brilliant, excellent and strong.

Almost every track of Negus embodies this theme. Kemba’s flow is on point and his lyrics often hit home. The album falters only when Kemba attempts to sing on tracks like “Heartbeat.” Many of his lyrics make you want to rewind the track and ask “what was he trying to say?” For example on “Kings & Queens” Kemba spits, “Napoleon Hill complex more the mighty medulla/Manifesting many thoughts getting set in stone like Medusa.” It becomes clear that he is evolving and thinking even throughout the course of the album. Negus is a trip through an angry and confusing world, culminating in the song “Brown Skin Jesus” where Kemba reinforces that we need to “teach our people to protect themselves from demons.”

Kemba seems to want to make as as many controversial statements as possible. Spitting bars like “even brownskin Jesus would say fuck the police” and “if I’m an ape imma be the apex.” Sometimes his statements get so far reaching that it begins to feel a little bit melodramatic, like when he says on Hallelujah,  “I don’t really wanna get to know you because statistics show that one of us might go soon.”  But the root of Negus is clearly heartfelt and Kemba brings up many points that are seldom mentioned in hip-hop.

Negus is provocative, daring and a must-listen for anybody that likes their hip-hop with a political flare.

Photo Credit: Bandcamp