by Jenny Stark
“Life gave us lemons – no water, no sugar – and we still made lemonade/Giving a fresh breath of air to hip hop, making good music for the good people/And delivering the message to all music-speaking countries, chow and chow mein” -Magna Carda
It is no secret that the rapidly spreading and infectious surplus of Rock, Indie Rock, Alternative Rock, Country, Alternative Country and Punk music has taken over the once diverse Austin scene, much like beards and taco trucks, leaving the allure of classic genres like hip-hop in its wake. Fortunately for us local head-bobbers, there is still good, and I mean good, hip-hop hidden deep in the underground of our very own little city just waiting to be tapped.
Seeking to resurrect hip-hop from the underground, Austin bred hip-hop/R&B collaborative Magna Carda has taken some big strides this past year, breaking away from the fad-fanatics, putting Austin hip-hop back on the map and providing the live music capital of the world with what it is so desperately missing–some serious swagger. It is no secret that we, the little creative people of Ovrld, are big fans of the M.C. A masterful combination of five talented local forces– Megz Kelli on vocals, Dougie Do on piano, Eric “The Greek” Nikolaides on guitar, Alvin Warren on drums and Derek Van Wagner on bass– the group forms a five part force to be reckoned with. Inspired by such lavish legends as Erykah Badu and A Tribe Called Quest, the group combines multiple genres they’re fond of–jazz, neo-soul, R&B and hip-hop, to give us heads a hard case of some serious whiplash. The clique, though having been on their grind for some time now in the underground scene, is finally catching the limelight we believe they truly deserve with the release of their anything but cliche album Like It Is.
Released December 16th of last year, Like It Is is pure tantric sex. A minted classic like shoes made by Italians or ghetto blasters, the 17 track EP contains everything from jazzy numbers heavy with the pizzazz of piping hot piano riffs and sultry strings, to bass-tastic beats backing Megz sick-ass flows, to cruisin’ tunes and sure-to-be bangers. Jam packed with tracks that drop hard like The Cool Kids’ “Pennies” and lyrics that can stir up one hell of a basement party like Missy, Magna Carda shows us what’s so good and right about this music we all love, hip-hop. Between Magz Kelli’s brisk, lickity-split spitting, Alvin Warren’s lively drums, Beatmeister Doogie Do’s pizzaz on the piano, Eric “The Greek” Nikolaides’s God-like nature on the guitar and Derek Van Wagner’s braininess on the bass lines, this album carries some serious swagger and is a taste to savor for any hip-hop tastemaker. Showcasing their ability to cohesively curate sweet syrupy intros, jazzy intermissions, breathy bass lines and all things wonky complimentary, Magna Carda is wiping the muddy off commercial hip-hop, abandoning the game and telling us like it is, all the while keeping it real and fresh.
Though the EP roots itself primarily in hip-hop and R&B, the vastly varying array of other musical influences woven throughout the album makes it so it can give any listener “the goose.” From tracks that showcase Megz Kelli’s grimey cutting skills on the mic over smooth J-Dilla inspired beats like “The Word,” “Game Like Jimmy” and “Juice,” to sultry, jazzy, saxy tracks like “All Good, All Right,” those laid back, Cali beach cruisin tracks like “Get The Cool,” “Thas Real,” to tracks that mirror Slug’s style, relaying messages through soft beats and serious rhymes like my favorite track on the EP “Moon to france” and all the eargasmic fuckin’ music like “Like It Is Pt 1 & Pt 2” in between, their addictive new album is a fresh drag of no matter what it is you’re smoking on.
Though the grimy beats and intense lyricism take precedence for any listener, what makes Magna Carda my personal jammy-jam and one to watch in 2015 is their ability to (under the radar) delve into deep topics such as classism, cultural slavery, the objectification of women and the inevitable fate of our generation’s decaying youth, all over head-bob worthy beats. Megz releases her frustrations with the commercialization of hip-hop, peoples’ desire to live lavish as a force of habit, how that affects future generations and the struggle of just doin’ you and lovin’ it. Instead of getting all preachy on our asses, Magz simply tells us like it is, while giving us something to nod to.
“Shit happens if you understand what dreams are for and because you can’t imagine it you stay stagnant.” –Magna Carda
Jenny Stark lives and breathes hip hop, but at heart she is a ten-gallon-girl.