M.anifest's 2007 debut Manifestations was a bright surprise in an already-rich year for local hip-hop, a Native Tongues-via-Ghana joint that kick-started the MC's reputation as one of the Twin Cities' most vital new artists. The chance to hear a full-length followup has been one of the top priorities for local and national underground hip hop heads, and while M.anifest's been busy with a number of collaborations since his debut -- like his "S&M" teamup with Minneapolis-gone-Brooklyn R&B singer Sarah White, and the crew effort A.R.M., consisting of himself, the Ugandan-born MC Krukid and Brooklyn producer Budo -- he pulled a neat reversal on his birthday: his fans are the ones getting a present.
The Birds & the Beats, released today for the price of approximately zero dollars, is now available on M.anifest's website, and a quick listen reveals that the gameplan he drew up on his debut -- Afrocentric political insights, naturalistic wordplay, and a mixture of intro- and outro-spection -- is still a rich vein of inspiration. The beats come from a wide range of producers, including the aforementioned Budo and members of the 4shades collective, and the production runs the gamut from Fela-influenced Afrobeat to modern club bangers, all of which suit the MC's versatile style well. It's good enough to make you feel guilty about paying nothing for it, though M.anifest does offer a worthwhile alternative by encouraging listeners to put their money towards Young Entrepreneurs Africa, a nonprofit that supports educational and business development in his home continent.