Veteran Baton Rouge emcee Marcel P. Black has been on a mission to elevate the message in contemporary rap music for the past 11 years.
With his latest release, “In Search of The Black Messiah,” Black delivers a 14-track musical thesis that directly responds to the harmful ideology of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover. During the Civil Rights era, Hoover directed the FBI's Counterintelligence Program to "prevent the rise of a messiah who could unify and electrify the black nationalist movement."
Under Hoover’s direction the FBI’s COINTELPRO operation engaged in “psychological warfare” with black leaders of civil rights organizations, including smear campaigns, forged documents, harassment, wrongful imprisonment and violence.
“ISOTBM” finds Black penning the “soundtrack to resistance” against the modernized version of similar ideologies. As a self-proclaimed conscious rapper, Black expresses themes of black self-empowerment, female divinity and community protection as attributes of a messiah-like identity.
With the assistance of a diverse group of producers, Black is able to deliver a sonically potent body of work. “ISOTBM” does not compromise entertainment value for cultural relevance.
The project’s lead singles — “Black God Fresh,” featuring Big Sant, and “Someday” featuring Skyzoo, a nationally renowned Brooklyn, New York, emcee — gives a clear indication of the tonal and emotional range of “ISOTBM.”
“Black God Fresh” finds Black and Big Sant in a celebratory, stylish mood that serves as an anthem for self-care in the midst of revolution. Black raps, “The black woman is God / So I’m tithing while I’m tippin’ ” as an homage to black femininity and strip clubs, with an authenticity that does not lead the listener to feel like either are contradicting ideas.
On “Someday,” Black pivots lyrically and tonally to a somber, reflective hope of improved conditions for those who are regularly marginalized in America.
Producer J-Filly gives Black arguably the standout offering of “ISOTBM” with “God’s Trombone.” Black begins the song directly quoting Hoover's words and afterwards launches into lyrical defiance as a marching band-style arrangement of horns blare in the background.
Later in the project Black rhymes an open letter to black women in his life with the King Tall T produced “Live For Me” which samples Lauryn Hill’s iconic single “Ex Factor." The song, which serves as a tribute to his mother, wife and daughter, offers a moment of tenderness that is both a reprieve from the more aggressive content and in sync with the album’s thematic arc.
“ISOTBM” concludes with a narrative-based suite of songs: “Feds Watchin’,” “Lawd Knows,” “Until Then” and “Over.” The tracks serve as continuations of one another chronicling a fictitious tale of one of Black’s mentees being murdered. The scope of the songs underscores the album’s concept as Black infuses the ideas of being under surveillance while attempting to provide guidance to someone who could be “the next messiah.”
On the final track, “Over,” Black raps, “Is there a place up in the sky for black lives / Cuz I don't wanna have to fight for my rights when I die,” reminding the listener that he is still uncertain if the freedom he seeks will ever come to fruition.
Along with Big Sant and Skyzoo, guest features on "ISOTBM" include emcees D. Horton, Noveliss, Mark Dub, Phosfiend and Chen. But the album’s most unexpected moments are provided by Black’s 7-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter (Amari “Cartoon Character” and Aamilah “Milah T”) who rap on “#RapDadMinivan Freestyle 1 & 2.”
The emerging emcees are each given 15-18 seconds to rap verses they wrote, providing hopefulness to a project that’s heavy in content. The verses accentuate the concept of the unknown “messiah” being someone in close proximity. The freestyles also serve as a production nod to Black’s offspring, whom he credits for selecting the lion's share of beats chosen for the album.
"In Search of The Black Messiah" is now available on major streaming platforms and at marcelpblack.bandcamp.com. Black will perform at Mid City Ballroom on Friday, Nov. 1, as a part of the "In Search of The Black Messiah" tour. Tickets are $10 advance; $15 at the door. facebook.com/midcityballroom.