For more than a decade now, hip-hop has struggled to reconcile its "hustla" and activist sides. During much of that time, the music has fostered a simmering ideological tension between outlaw "me first"-ism and communitarian selflessness. Like KRS-One and Rakim before him, West Philadelphia rhymer Baby Blak effortlessly balances street reality with a sophisticated consciousness, proffering the blend in an understated, consistently elegant rhyme style.
While major-label hip-hop bounces between conflated jiggyism and sappy humanist lip service, Blak's crafted narratives address real-life economics, substance abuse, and crime in a voice that evokes a common-sense shrug more than a sermon. Despite its finger-wagging title, "Wake Up" finds Blak summoning a natural empathy to ask both cats on the corner and used young females why they settle for less: "I used to walk in your shoes, took the same steps... I was just like you/Get money, have sex, smoke weed, drink brew." Whether Blak is buying jerseys for the neighborhood Little League team ("The Youth"), criticizing South Africa's exploitative bling-stone trade ("Diamonds"), or simply shining in battle ("Taster's Choice"), his nimble rhymes are buoyed by some highly dope arrangements. As an MC who can sound this good while lyrically harmonizing the concerns of the street with those of the world, Baby Blak's got the best chance yet of unifying hip-hop's conflicting impulses.