"Summer 2015 been lit. I'm walking around this bitch like Bob Dylan," says Muja Messiah, recovering from a recent Sound Gallery after-party that kept him out until 7 a.m. He's in the midst of a creative streak, dividing time between three studios to put finishing touches on a string of new projects to follow up last year's excellent God Kissed It, The Devil Missed It. His most recent release, Angel Blood Soup, continues that record's vibe and resonance, once again using all Mike the Martyr beats to spit highly visual jewels of truth.
"They fucking love me, bro. I had to realize that, 'cause you feel like you're falling on deaf ears sometimes," Muja says ahead of the Angel Blood Soup release party Saturday at Cabooze. "You feel like so many people's hating, you feel like nobody care, until you go hit the streets. That comes with the longevity in the game. Longevity cuts out all the hating. I would hate for something to happen to me — this city got my back."
Soup goes into striking detail about both the benefits of the work he's put in over nearly two decades in the rap scene, and the lingering threats that are par for the course of a racist society. "I don't like how everything's designed to judge and punish those for what they do, so you gotta speak up for certain groups, the minority groups and the smaller groups that can't, on some superhero shit," Muja states about the album's multiple references to police brutality.
It's a political record, insofar as it's a starkly honest depiction of life from all angles, and Muja's unique perspective sheds a light on the realities of the modern moment. "I just do it to keep me sane," he says. "Ain't got time to worry about the future, I got shit to do." Meant initially as an EP of additional material in the vein of God Kissed It, inspiration struck to the point where Angel Blood Soup became its own full-length entity, touching on new territory with a similar open-eyed approach.
"I went even deeper with what I was doing. I wrote a couple verses over some [Young Thug] beats [and Mike the Martyr said] you know, you could do that, but you're the lyricist," Muja explains. "Keep doing that, that's where you got everybody. I was like, yeah, that's kinda my bread and butter, that's where my passion lies. Like Raekwon, I seen it like a 20-inch Zenith, believe it. You gotta see that shit, the imagery."
With a similar work ethic and acumen, Muja and Martyr have been an impressive creative team. "Me and Mike the Martyr are Ghost and Rae. Fuckin' Havoc and Prodigy. Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug. He pushes me without trying to push me. He motivates me cuz he's just so fly with it, from the beats to the rhymes, all the damn time," Muja says of his go-to producer. "Think how many albums he's put out, how many people he's produced for ... we're able to execute all our ideas; we're being productive."
Sharing common ground with the dense, conversational styles that defined the boom-bap era, Muja and Martyr's collective styles have developed the sound beyond the blueprints of the past, adopting new techniques that maintain the former era's depth but bring it into the modern day.
"[It's] a little more trappier. It's not as easy to pull off, but that was [Mike's] idea," Muja states. "He started making beats that kinda bounced a little more. That's how I hear music, I'm straight boom-bap, but now everything's evolving. He's adding elements, and it's keeping me sounding a little more current for me to say what I gotta say."
There's hardly a wasted line on the album, utilizing tightly constructed, understatedly technical rhymes to disperse varying degrees of poignancy that sink into Martyr's sample-based soundscapes. Muja will bounce between the touching and the provocative, the family oriented and the drug-riddled, the slick and the self-reflective, all with a restrained flow that intentionally highlights the lyrics over the presentation. With the exception of the big-name cameo from De La Soul's Maseo on "Silk Road," guests are largely pulled from a small circle of talented locals who are all Muja's close confidants, including Maria Isa, Metasota, Greg Grease, Sophia Eris, and Muja's son Nazeem.
"My son knows if he was spittin wack shit, he couldn't be on my shit. My son went and got his own movement. He shows up to the shows 20 deep. These niggas got they own whole style. I get wild by the shit that they do," Muja says. "I used to go pick him up from school and his friends would tell me, 'Yo your son's good, he can rap.' He never would rap for me. I'm like, I keep hearing rumors that you're out here rapping. What'd I tell you about rapping? He said, 'I don't want to spit though because I cuss in it.' He's like 16. I said, you can cuss, go ahead, spit it! Then I was like, aw yeah, that's tight. Then ever since then, he kinda let his guard down and started snappin'."
A more smooth and streamlined version of the fluctuating style that defined the intelligent street-raps of 2008's Thee Adventures Of A B-Boy D-Boy or his earlier work with Raw Villa, Muja Messiah has settled into a comfortable stage of his creative career where the work is increasingly astounding but seemingly effortless. Among the fruits of his recent prolific stretch: Angel Blood Soup, another Villa Rosa record with Maria Isa, and a comic book-themed concept record called Southside Samurai (synapsis: "I gotta lynch mob and the police outside my house, I wake up and make her some eggs, do some pushups ... they're like, come out monkey, we're gonna kill you! I come out like, calm down! Then I punch the fat white woman, knock out the old white guy's teeth, kick the twelve year old girl between the legs, PSHAAAA! Then I pull out my sword, and right when I'm bout to cut off the police's head, I get shot in the back and I fall down, and I look up and it's the only black kid in the crowd, shaking, and he shoots me, and blood's dripping out my mouth, and he runs, and my spirit of the samurai comes out and goes inside of him. That's what those songs gonna sound like,").
He's also been a co-host of The Godcast with P-Murda, which recently hit its 16th episode. "That's another aspect of my life I'm getting into as I evolve. How can I express myself without just rapping? The words don't gotta rhyme, I can write whatever," says Muja of the podcast, which intentionally stirs the pot of the local scene with his unfiltered thoughts. "I feel like I put in enough work around this bitch, around this city, to say what the fuck I want to say, at least. Niggas gotta respect it."
Angel Blood Soup is a textured listen that combines the various sides of Muja Messiah, both immediately captivating and revealing after multiple run-throughs. "I got the best compliment from my guy, he said, 'You know what you make me realize when you rap? I gotta fucking read more,'" Muja says. "This year I've recorded the most music, and it can't be a coincidence that I've read the most books. I think that shit helps. It just makes me wanna explore and transfer what I'm reading." Considering his unique style, his influence and impact, his time on the scene, and the ever-improving body of work, Muja Messiah is arguably the best rapper in Minnesota, and though the notion is appreciated it's quickly brushed off by the man himself.
"Respect, pride, and ego are mental games we play with ourselves; they don't even exist. Who wants respect? Who gives a fuck? Niggas die for respect every day, for nothing. For what? The point is, what keeps you happy," says the no-bullshit rapper, who's focused on the future and soaking in the present. "I got shit to maintain, I have relationships to maintain with my mother, my kids, my woman, my friends, and I'm doing that. I'm not out for nobody's respect, record sales ... we been doing this shit, we're going to continue to do this shit. And I'm hot, baby, I'm hot, I can't front. Like I said, it ain't for everybody but what is?"
Muja Messiah Angel Blood Soup album-release party
With: Roc Marciano, Bobby Raps, Sophia Eris, Nazeem & Spencer Joles.
When: 9 p.m. Sat.