Magna Carda & Austin’s Queen of Hip-Hop

Magna Carda might be the coolest band in Austin. Not in that Shakey Graves “look at my suspenders, I haven’t bought clothes since 1920” sense of cool. No, Magna Carda bleeds so much confidence and swagger on their latest mixtape, Van Geaux, that it’s hard not to imagine they spent the entire time in the studio just doing cool yo-yo tricks and flipping nickels while spitting these incredibly complex verses and dense beats. The hip-hop/funk five-piece has been making the rounds in the ATX hip-hop scene for a hot minute, and with this mixtape, they have made a document that can stand next to their legend-in-the-making performances.

Van Geaux‘s lush production is filled with jazzy pianos, violins, saxophones, and laid back guitar picking – all of which elevate the razor sharp and lightning fast flow of leader Megz Kelli. The buzz of other no-bullshit females rappers like Azealia Banks and Angel Haze died down quickly, so if Magna Carda play their cards right (especially during SXSW), there may soon be a new queen of hip-hop.

As easy as their music sounds, lyrically they delve into cultural slavery, critics (a topic that normally turns me off in music, but they get their critic bashing out of the way early), objectification of women, peer pressure in the age of kids raised by D.A.R.E., and Billie Holiday-as-therapy. The delivery of these topics doesn’t come across as preachy, as it could have. Instead, everything feels very matter-of-fact and informative, all while making you close your eyes and bob your head to the rhythm.

Even though most of their songs stay in the realm of stoop rap, “No Shoes, Some Service” – their only “club” song– still maintains the air of nonchalance that’s evident in their other songs. “Ryan,” the absolute highlight of a record full of highlights, has Kelli spitting over a truly genius beat by Dougie Do that can only be described as the organ from Beck’s “Where It’s At” by way of a wind chime. There are too many damn songs about love in the world, but “Ryan” turns the idea of a normal love song on its head by repeating the mantra, “Is this so foreign / you feel safer just to end it?” The whole idea of a love song is super crazy, and it’s rare to see a band address the inherent madness of one.

Magna Carda was a pleasant surprise when I caught them at the outside stage at Spiderhouse back in December. I’m glad to know that their incredible, restrained energy translates so well to record. Van Geaux has set a high bar for Austin hip-hop, which can only lead to more incredible music. I can’t wait to see what 2014 brings these guys.

– Dylan Garsee