3 out of 5
Label: Sol Messiah Music
Produced by: Sol Messiah
Sa-Roc can write. There’s never been a doubt in my mind about that. From the first few tracks I heard, hyping up her eventual Rhymesayers release, that was very clear. And even though the lyrics on Gift of the Magi are maybe more often talking about talking about something as opposed to actually talking about it – i.e. “Let me tell you about this…” for several verses, without quite getting to the point – the clever turns of phrase Sa-Roc trails out along those lines are killer, and the few snippets when she delivers some actual barbs can make the buildup worthwhile, densely packed with references and meanings that I’m sure are beyond me, thus providing food for thought or consideration. While that type of focus would become better honed on her next release, Sharecropper’s Daughter, it’s present here when the lyrics aren’t so socially conscious, but turn to more accessible fare, like boast tracks or rapping about representing her gender in the genre. Perhaps because Sa doesn’t have to be so intent on making sure her words are heard in these instances, her flow can open up a bit more, and the phrasings become that much sharper.
Flow is my biggest hitch with Sa, and her pairing with producer Sol Messiah. I’m not sure if her voice is the strongest, at her register is very middleground; she also doesn’t have quite that much range. This means annunciation falls away when her delivery is angrier, and, perhaps in support of not stepping on her vocals, Sol tends to dial the production way back; things are very muted. Past the midway point, with Burning Bush, the duo finds a way to sync up that works for me: Bush tosses in some manipulation on the vocals, and the tracks that follow have Sa playing up against some soulful samples used for the choruses, which seem to encourage her to warm up from a calmer tone to more aggressive by the end, making Heaven on Earth and Lillith’s Palm some of the best, most well-rounded tracks on the disc.
In service of fronting Sa-Roc’s lyricism, I recognize that Sol is, perhaps, doing his best to “simply” set beats to poetry; there’s more nuance to that, but you often have to strain to hear it. And despite my grouse about Sa’s intended meanings perhaps lacking consistent punch on this disc, I do like that she tends to support awareness over anger. There’s plenty of the latter emotion here, but it’s flipped to encourage speaking up and thinking out loud, as opposed to just flinging that anger outward. While her delivery occasionally stumbles, more due to the limitations of her vocal range than anything else, when tracks allow her to warm up and find a groove, Gift of the Magi delivers some really stunning, unique tracks.