By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
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"I think if I was anyone else, I would've had a nervous breakdown," says St. Paul rapper Meta, a.k.a. Metasota, of the recording process of his latest project, Happy I'm Present 2. With the release date around the corner, Meta faces last-minute changes due to the project's engineer and contributing producer Tek's sudden imprisonment. "He violated his probation, but we didn't know that. It sucks, because that dude is way too fucking talented to be sitting in a fucking jail cell for two years. Now I can't find stems to a couple of the songs, so I literally have to remake songs in the next week and a half. So now it is crunch time again."
Thanks to his impressive output in 2012, the veteran rapper has more than his share of experience with down-to-the-wire music creation. Subtitled 2 Week Theory, the original Happy I'm Present project was conceived, written, recorded, and released in the same space of two weeks last January. Even more staggering was Meta May, which unveiled a brand new song written each day in the month of May, each with its own unique lyrical theme and overall feel. With a consistency and ear for songwriting that exceeds most rappers' unconstrained work, the slew of material avoided the potential pitfalls of quick-turnaround projects.
It proved to be a banner year for Meta. But he's quick to shrug off the timing aspect of his work, considering it a side note.
Meta plays an album-release show with Mod Sun, Greg Grease, Illuminous 3, and Mike the Martyr on Saturday, January 19, at Fine Line Music Cafe; 612.338.8100
"The last year, I've pushed myself to limits that I didn't even know that I could do. Knowing that I have the ability to make a good song in a short amount of time, I'm not upset with that. It's just, I wanted [H.I.P. 2] to be different because I had plans for it for a while. I'm still ahead of the curve, because I know what direction I want everything to go in, I know what topic I want to talk about, I know what sort of beats I'm looking for. And I know the theme and feel I want, more importantly. Don't get it twisted, I'm not gonna put out no bullshit. "
It's a difficult prospect to try to repurpose songs over new beats, as Meta's writing process is led by the feel of the particular instrumental. Recycling lines and ideas seems to almost make him cringe, and some of the original collaborations with Tek stood out as his favorites of the proposed record. Still, if lead single and live staple "Pennywise" is any indication, the final product stands to be pretty powerful. The track breaks down America's incessant need for frivolous spending, and turns hip hop's money-soaked sheen into a self-affirming call for personal investment.
"Almost everything about hip hop is telling you to go spend. Get a better car, make it rain in the club, fat gold chain...anything to get us to buy shit. Even me, I had to get over my little clothing habits. Are these shoes making me cooler, or am I supposed to be making these shoes cooler?" says Meta. "I wanna tell people to save. I don't give a fuck what I'm wearing at this point." The huge Corey French (a.k.a. Sinsiter Grinch) beat plays to Meta's ear for beats and ability to latch onto anything and truly own it.
Meta maintains the theme of happiness in the present moment and recognizing what it took to get there as heard on the original H.I.P., and intersperses samples of his supporters interpreting this idea in spoken form between tracks. Slug, Prof, and Mod Sun all make appearances and break down their respective stories, as does TDE's Ab-Soul, who also made a surprise appearance in the video trailer for the album citing Meta as an early influence. Meta says he met the Black Hippy rapper "very, very randomly" over a Black Planet hip-hop-themed chat room in 2001, where they and their cyber crew A5 would post typed freestyles and critique each other's work.
"It was like a secret underground society; it was pretty intense [laughs]. We did that between 2001 and 2005. It's cool to be influential with what he's done. It's cooler to see what he's done with it. I didn't put in the work in the studio for him, he did that."
Meta's own relentless studio time has produced a bulk of work that can already be called local classics. Even with the project's trajectory still in the air ("We'll see what happens. By the time January 19 happens, we will all see. We will collectively be surprised together"), it will no doubt continue that trend.