Mazta I: Thank the Lord and the Sword!

Mazta I
Thank the Lord and the Sword!

With the gravelly exception of Lyrics Born, or that whore Ja Rule, hip hop has never much cared about male rappers who can sing. Until last year, that is, when Mazta I made one of the more talked-about cameos in the Rhymesayers catalog. On I Self Devine's Self Destruction, the newcomer rendered every rap syllable sonorous, like a deeper-voiced Q-Tip, and sang with the natural grace of a guy who need not, and will not, make an unmanly show of melisma. Mazta I moved here from Chicago's South Side in '99, and made his name as a battle MC, then appeared on stages alongside Eyedea, who engineers this new solo debut. So more than the usual expectations ride on the results.

The music is half there. Producing alone, and leaning heavily on synths, Mazta I lets the singsong "Phantasm" cast a DJ Shadow-like spell. He taps a surprisingly Krautrock guitar sample for "Eye Does the Damn Thang," a barely comprehensible rant that leaves him comically breathless by the end of two minutes. "Unhealthy" similarly garbles a rhyme for "monosodium glutamate," but otherwise evocatively juxtaposes violence and bad eating (shades of Capital D's "No Beef").

The radical centerpiece is "Life Is Pain": two chords on a piano, no beat, and Mazta I crooning, "Ain't get no love/So you hook up with thugs." He obviously has something to say, and a willfully different way of saying it. Clarity will be key in bringing it together.