Review: Montshodaw flexes his storytelling abilities on “The Realms… Realm 1: I’ma Rise”

As a lover of music since I was a child I’ve always held an album in higher regards than a single as it pertains to enjoying an artist. Yes, you can gain some level of knowledge about a person’s artistry off of one or two songs, but a complete body of work is almost always going to be way more effective in letting you know what someone’s capability and style truly is. To put it simply, it’s easier to luck up and make a hot song than it is to sit down and craft a body of work that people can always run back to.

In a sense it’s almost as if with an album the artist is bringing you into their realm, showcasing their inner-thoughts in full for you to enjoy. Some, like Jackson, Mississippi MC Montshodaw take albums as an opportunity to introduce a certain concept to the listeners. In his case he brings you into a world that you didn’t even know you could relate to before listening to his latest album “The Realms… Realm 1: I’ma Rise”.

“I would like for the project to be received in the light common unity. I would like for people to be able relate, connect, or see some part of them or their life in the project. And be able to see the folly in some ways living. If that can happen or if revelations are received by the listener in any way that they think can improve their lives I would consider that a success. I would like the project to engender the desire to overcome elements of estrangement and opposition in family relationships and inner conflicts of understanding within the listener’s own mind about emotional responses to life situations.” – Montshodaw

“Da Realms” kicks the album off as a 53-second introduction to the enigmatic and diverse sounds of Montshodaw. The first words you hear -“Snowflakes are falling”, may not be what you expect from a Mississippian but they set the tone for the artist to bring you into a setting all his own. This setting is a “selfish city” that is burning, failing and hurting place. It’s short but it does indeed bring you into “Da Realm”, so to speak. The tone set here is also one that will carry forth at later parts of the album as you will find out.

We reach track 2, which carries a similar title as track 1 but not quite the same audible aura. “Da Truth” finds Montshodaw delivering a package of bars that hold great meaning in subject matter. Messages of overcoming the pitfalls of drugs and other temptations and not becoming addicted are brought here. He addresses the topics from multiple angles. The first verse in particular contains some of the better alliteration I’ve heard in a while. I will say this does come off as a song that could have been trimmed a bit, as I think it was enjoyable but too lengthy as I continued to listen.

“Rancid” follows and is one that will instantly draw attention for it’s production. The use heavy key rifts backs Montshodaw as he once again delivers his message with conviction. He is purposeful in his writing, aiming to warn of some of the dangers the streets can hold for those who aren’t prepared for it. It’s pulled off pretty well and showcases the MC’s ability to stick to a topic as things transition into “Wut Dey Say”. On this track we stick with some of the themes of the previous song, with the attention shifting to his ability to pull a woman, evade the cops and do it all while the naysayers wish on his downfall. The tables turn though as he ends the song explaining the downfalls of this lifestyle and also how Hip-Hop plays a role in putting kids on the streets and in these positions in real life.

The mood shifts to a different sound and a new aura as we reach one of the singles which dropped before the album release in “Sunny Day”. As I listen to the “The Realms” in full as an album I understand more than I did before why this was picked as a single. It contains much lighter-sounding production than a lot of the tracks on the album, with a vibe similar to that in Reggae and some West Indian music. It’s a backdrop for which Montshodaw weaves together motivational lyrics in hopes of getting listeners to understand they can reach their own personal Sunny Day regardless of the current circumstances. Love the message.

“Bus Dat Down” is another song with vivid lyrics, taking us immediately to the club as he has his eyes on firmly set on his muse. The lady has his full attention and of course he wants to make the song title more than just words, if you know what I mean. They do some talking in the club and after some convincing things escalate from there. For a song with a topic like sex, it isn’t overly vulgar or off-putting, showing that Montshodaw was very aware in how he created everything on “The Realms… Realm 1: I’ma Rise”.

We reach the second half of the project as we get to “Juke Joint”. To me personally this is one I really could never get into. It’s a song that is aimed to get you dancing as one of the more club oriented tracks of the set. The problem is it never really made me want to move. I am just one person but to me this song is on the weaker side of the project. I think his artistry is better showcased on other portions of the album.

The other single that came before the album is “Black Rose”, which is up next. This is another of the more “universal” sounding records on the project, so again I commend Montshodaw for picking good singles. FlyMsCali adds vocals as a featured artist which helps to add a good dynamic to this song. It is one of the standout tracks without question on the album and carries a good message encouraging a woman to see her inner-beauty.

Some of the more frantic production of “The Realms… Realm 1: I’ma Rise” projects through the speakers as “Super Hero” starts. On this one he again writes from a particular perspective as he embodies several different types of superhero personas. Montshodaw not only places himself in the shoes of a hero but also the listener, making sure to explain they to will have their moment when they have to stand up and use their “superpowers”. It’s very uplifting and I could see the song helping someone to get through some rough patches in life.

Montshodaw has to this point established an album that is very rooted in messages but none may be more powerful than the one he brings on “Cain’t Believe”. On it he tells the story of a young lady who unfortunately has to deal with molestation and sexual assault. It’s not a topic many people are willing to tell in Hip-Hop, so I applaud Montshodaw for going forth with it. I won’t ruin how everything ends on the song but there is a storyline here that ends with quite the character arc. It should once again be noted the first words we hear on this album are “snowflakes are falling”, and those words from the intro appear on this song in specific as well.

From there we go to “I’m a Rise”, a song which could be consider the title track on “The Realms… Realm 1: I’ma Rise”. With this record he once again uses his aforementioned references to living in a burning city to escape the fire and rise above it all. In his verses he expounds more on what his particular fire was, with lyrics about navigating a world filled with racism and more. He also leaves messages to help the listener rise through there demons and setbacks. The second verse on this song strikes me as one of the better verses on an album full of strong ones.

We reach the conclusion of the album with the running theme, “snowflakes are falling” once again reigning supreme. In this instance it’s probably most prevalent as “Hard (Snowflakes Remix)” continues forth. The conclusion of what escalated with “Cain’t Believe” is explored more in depth on the outro, which is pretty dark but also a well put together song. When asked about the allusion to these lyrics, Montshodaw said “It’s a reference to the idea that something is happening that one may not be aware of because it does not make a sound. So in one aspect it represents things going unseen or realized. Snowflakes are also cold and can be harsh if allowed to build up over time.” Thus concluding an album that takes on twists and turns throughout before bringing a story full-circle.

In terms of message there aren’t many albums that explore our issues as people and addresses them in such an honest way as this. It’s almost Pastoral at times the conviction with which Montshodaw is able to speak on these things and bring other options for which to resolve them. Each message is one that I fully agree is needed for our youth to grow into their full potential. This and his immense propenciety for being able to tell stories from different perspectives strikes me as the strongest elements of “The Realms… Realm 1: I’ma Rise”.

On the other hand there are flaws here that have to be mentioned. The biggest one in my opinion is the actual sound quality. The diverse sounds and melodies could benefit from being bridged together in a smoother manner sonically. Beyond that I also would have loved to see more melodies in the hooks that were performed by Montshodaw himself done by outside vocalist as I feel it would have added a deeper layer of emotion that was needed on a few of the records.

All-in-all though I am thoroughly impressed with what Montshodaw was able to do well here which is bring a concept to life. In our interview a few weeks back it was explained that this project is only one piece of a larger plan and I admit he did enough to keep me interested in what to come. While the package may not be as polished and pristine as it needs to be, I believe you too will be longing for more if you give the project a full and honest listen as he constructs a body of work rooted in positivity and cohesiveness.

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