To my shame, this was the first time I had really noticed Melbourne emcee Mantra. I somehow missed his debut ‘Power of the Spoken‘, and although I’d heard his guest appearances on Chasm’s ‘Beyond the Beat Tape‘ and his work with Diafrix and Urthboy, for whatever reason the name didn’t stick. So coming somewhat fresh to his sophmore effort, ‘Speaking Volumes’, was a happy revelation.
Released in late September, the Melbourne emcee brings the slick and professional sounds you expect from an Obese Records release, packed with big head-nodding beats which also manage to be musically satisfying, and the guestlist features the cream of the crop of talented Australian emcees. But it’s Mantra who is the star of the show, and absolutely delivers, coming with crisp, attention-grabbing word delivery, clever rhymes, and a sharp wit.
At first thought, man, fans of Looptroop Rockers would LOVE this! Then I hit the album’s first single, ‘Self Destruct’, which happens to feature Promoe. “Oh snap”, as they say. ‘The Volume’ will get your feet moving, and ‘Nobody Knows I’m Famous’ is a great take-down of the Australian hip hop scene’s obsession with hype and the glass ceiling for the underground artists. ‘Right Here’ is an intelligent track about how we fit in the universe which manages to not be pretentiously self-righteous (damn you, Kero One), and instead is honestly delivered, cleverly structured and evocative, and has just the right level of cynicism.
On the other end of the spectrum, ‘Dead Em’ is a fantastic hard-hitting posse cut featuring Jeremedy, Drapht, Illy, Muph, Urthboy and Solo (how’s THAT for a line-up?). Mista Savona and Mantra himself handle the bulk of the production duties, with El Gusto, Dan West, M-Phazes, Abztrakt and Whisper rounding out the rest of the record.
If you’re new to Australian hip hop, ‘Speaking Volumes’ is actually a great introduction to the current state and vibe of the movement, which is slowly edging its way away from barbeque and booze raps and into a more artist-driven and lyrically creative approach, even if musically it can sometimes play it safe. If you’re already a fan of Oz hip hop, Mantra belonds on your playlist.