Equal parts witty, candid, ruminating, and ferocious, M.anifest’s new mixtape, The Birds and the Beats—available for free download on the artist’s Web site—is an unofficial but solid follow-up to his 2007 debut full-length, Manifestations. The mixtape is a wide-ranging and compelling hour-long snapshot of his past, present, and future—where he’s come from, the variety of experiences in his daily life, and what holds for the future, not only for himself, but also for his fans.
Born in the Madina neighborhood of Accra, Ghana, M.anifest balances the dope lyricism and bangin’ beats common to damn near all hip-hop, no matter where it’s from, with his own background, always reppin’ where he’s from but also never excluding any potential listeners.
There’s quite a bit on this record detailing where M.anifest’s from and what’s shaped him as an artist, whether it be a blown-up Fela sample and extended use of Twi (M.anifest’s first language) on “How I Used to Be,” a brief recitation of the children’s word-game “Che Che Cole” on “Golly Gosh,” or the analysis of the first steps, missteps, and next steps of his home country’s independence on “Ghana ‘52” (complete with vocal samples from Nkrumah himself).
Sprinkled throughout the album’s transitions are documentary audio samples of people discussing various aspects of African music and life, including Fela Kuti as well as a number of people discussing the roles of gender and music in African life. This train of thought reaches its conclusion with the album’s conclusion, in a “re-fix” of D’angelo’s “Africa” on “D’Angelo Said,” as M.anifest raps a digital duet with the neo-soul star about their shared African descent.
As for the present life of M.anifest, you hear the variety of producers that make M.anifest’s complex and creative lyrics that much better. Production duties on the record are handled by a cast of characters with roots all across the States and on both sides of the Atlantic. Much of it comes from the members of the 4shades production collective, made up of Katrah-Quey, O-D, an, G Mo, and M.anifest himself. M.anifest isn’t the only person with African roots in the collective: O-D’s family comes from the Seychelles. One of the beats comes from Ghana: “Walk Away,” courtesy of Dee, one of the best producers Ghana has to offer. The album’s title track is produced by Weedy of the Belgian production collective 40 Winks, and the rest of the album is produced by Budo, a New Yorker with roots in Seattle. (More about him in a minute.)
Lyrically, M.anifest tells not only first-person accounts of daily life, but imaginative—and relevant—discussions about making it as an independent artist (“Still Hungry”), the trials and tribulations of relationships (“Walk Away” and “My Lady Oh”), and the necessity of speaking truth to power (“Just Like a Lion”). On songs like the incredibly thumpin’ “Golly Gosh” or the conga- and horn-laden “2nd Coming PSA,” M.anifest easily displays his verbal dexterity. Of course, this is also apparent on the rest of the album: I don’t know of any other artists that rhyme about both Brett Favre (“What’s the chances, I’m a packer when I’m traveling/ now a rightful king [Viking] so guess I’m Brett Favre”) and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (“I’m a nuclear stockpile/ Make Mahmoud Ahmadinejad go bow wow”) on the same album, but these more-than-strange bedfellows sound right at home here.
As for M.anifest’s musical future, there are plenty of glimpses on The Birds and the Beats. The album features two appearances by former Minneapolitan and Black Blondie singer Sarah White: on the opening “Born Free” and on “Walk Away,” a preview of their upcoming project together. There’s also “Slow Your Roll,” a collaboration with the Ugandan-born MC Krukid, now based in Illinois. The duo, along with producer Budo, will be releasing their debut album as A.R.M. (which variously stands for African Rebel Movement and Artists Representin’ the Motherland) in 2010.
Doing what every good mixtape should do, The Birds and the Beats gives fans new and old a portrait of M.anifest’s roots, his artistic growth and development today, and fulfilling songs that should leave hip-hop heads clamoring for what’s to come.