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MH The Verb
Space Ninja James Butterworth , March 3rd, 2020 08:25

Space Ninja, the latest album from experimental hip hop artist MH The Verb exudes positivity, finds James Butterworth

On the opener to his new project, the eclectic, breezy, jazz-infused Space Ninja, MH The Verb raps, “[They say I’m] biting off A Tribe Called Quest… we ain’t identical, but like they say, always learn from the best.” It’s easy to see where the comparisons come from. Philadelphia-born MH The Verb is clearly cut from the same cloth as ‘alternative’ hip hop legends like Quest, J Dilla and more recently Kendrick Lamar. Space Ninja is as much about lilting saxophone and piano riffs as it’s about rap verses. But MH carves out his own voice on this album, an enthralling, enchanting affair that in a relatively brief thirty-eight minutes gives us a vivid account of his life and worldview.

One of the most noticeable things about this album is the positivity that runs throughout. On his Bandcamp page, MH says conversations with elders about spreading a wholesome message unclouded by negative language formed part of the project’s inspiration. MH deliberately uses the word ‘ninja’ instead of the similarly-pronounced racial slur, and there’s not a hint of misogyny or machismo on this release either. On ‘East Bay Flow’ MH raps, “Everybody got a struggle / But some of y’all in a bubble / Only think about yourself, what if someone needed help?” This is followed by ‘Ma Rainey’, featuring Jung Marx, where he raps, “Take time for self, my brothers, protect your mental health.” There’s a wisdom here that belies his years and MH seems to be channeling the voices of the elders through his own bars.

But the most striking thing about Space Ninja is the instrumental range on the album. ‘Pyramids’ sees MH’s verses give way to rousing drums and astral riffs, whilst a languid saxophone solo accompanies his ruminations about self-improvement and growth on ‘Raw Smoothie’. MH’s personal favourite artists include Parliament-Funkadelic and their influence shines through at various points on the album, not least on ‘Interstellar Bass’ featuring Kuf Knotz and Christine Elise. ‘New $$$ Anthem’ is one of the more upbeat tracks on the album and sees MH paying homage to Wu-Tang and Biggie Smalls over a deep, punchy bass line. If there’s one downside to the dexterous production it’s that at times it can overshadow MH’s voice; stripping things back occasionally would allow his raps the breathing space they deserve.

MH The Verb currently has a loyal underground following, hosting well-attended gigs and DJ residencies across the US. In the past he’s supported Kid Cudi and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony on tour. But on this project he proves he has the potential to become a household name. More avant-garde releases in the same vein as Space Ninja should propel MH into the spotlight and solidify his status as one of the most exciting and experimental hip hop acts of the 2020s.