Toronto has always been a city better known for its cold and cleanliness than its emcees. Now, in a city distracted by a young boy named Drake, emcee, poet, and new-era bluesman Ian Kamau emerges from the shadows with the September Nine Mixtape (Vol 1). Well, kinda.
Like that tree in the forest that no one’s around to hear, he’s been making noise; living, writing, and rhyming on the margins for years. Besides a few guest spots on K-Os’ albums, Ian Kamau’s music has generally been passed along through the hands of a committed group of supporters.
Those familiar with Ian Kamau’s earlier work will feel the growth. The September Nine Mixtape is the evolution an artist. Like a peek into the journal he left out, the mixtape feels sincere and deeply personal. The intelligent subject matter, thoughtful lyrics and sincerity make for an intimate conversation among friends.
Ian Kamau’s “Majority Report” picks up where Jay’s version left off. With snippets from President Obama highlighting the track, Kamau reminds listeners: “A Black president won’t keep my people out of court/I’m no minority, so this is my majority report/Can’t say we’re better off than we were before/One man can’t keep the world from being poor/Still kids from the ghetto fighting rich peoples’ war/Can’t say they better off then they were before.”
And then there’s the noteworthy “Alarm Call,” delivered with remarkable ease. Serene and yet intense, it’s seemingly effortless. Ian Kamau’s distinctive cadence is soothing, even when he’s breathing fire with lyrics like: “Now we’re the workforce, your whores, we clean your floors/For the promise of a new world and opened doors/That close quickly/So sickly and unjust/The system kissed us with fisticuffs.” Ringing with anger and astonishing clarity, on this piece, Kamau sacrifices nothing.
Ian Kamau’s musical influences outside the realm of hip-hop are evident throughout, but particularly on the more experimental, “Say It Ain’t So” and “Say You Will.” It’s a mixtape, and consequently limited, but it’s still enough to recognize his talent, as seen through his uncommon ability to illustrate a scene and add insight to a political discussion.
– Alison Isaac