Deep Rooted is a fitting title for the highly anticipated solo debut from local drummer and MC Iomos Marad. Released last month by All Natural Productions, the album, both musically and lyrically, asserts this poet's pride in his Chicago roots.
The limbs of those roots extend near and far, with an emphasis on the near. They begin on the South Sidewhere Iomos was raised on the jazz of his parents' generation, including that of his own mother, who was a drummerand wind underground through the city to downtown El stops, where Chicagoans often find Iomos either tapping on his drum set, or conversing with willing commuters on the subjects of hip hop, Marxism, or taxation. The limbs also form one branch of the local hip hop crew Family Tree, which has been recently spotted hyping up Chicago audiences for Mos Def, as well as holding down its own parties at clubs throughout the city. Beyond the personal and artistic nurturing stemming from the people and streets of Chicago, Iomos' lyrics reveal a political awareness and social consciousness rooted in, but extended beyond, the Windy City (among his thanks in the album's liner notes is Chairman Mao).
Without exception, his debut solo album captures this journey through the streets of Chicago with an understated honesty that not many artistsunderground or otherwiseare able to accomplish. Unlike the happy party hip hop of other Family Tree products such as their latest Tree House Rock album, Deep Rooted is an introspective piece of work, with an emphasis on straightforward lyrics complemented by jazzy back-up musicians and head-bumpin' soul-inspired production. His use of both local musicians and minimal head-bumpin' beats is what make this album not only thought-provoking, but also neck-breaking. As far as the lyrics go, every song offers a refreshingly humble, socially-conscious message, traversing the subjects of struggle, freedom, and self-awareness.
The song "Anotha Late Night" is an arresting ode to all those who struggle to survive in the nocturnal urban landscape. Over a beautifully-crafted sound collage of police sirens, drum beats, flute music, singing, and fittingly relentless chiming, Iomos paints a graphic lyrical picture of a late night in the Windy City.
Voicing the thoughts of urban dwellers, from the homeless on the cold streets, to parents worried about their kids out late, young women in labor, drunk drivers, and so on, Iomos creates a touching tribute to the thousands of daily personal struggles for survival. The honeyed flute and soft voice in the background belong to Nicole Mitchell, the phenomenal Chicago jazz composer, who takes the song on a musical flight from where Iomos leaves its poetic narration. The song's musical and lyrical brilliance is an exciting demonstration of the creativity that occurs when the talent of Chicago's--no, make that the South Side'ship hop and jazz communities share the stage. Hopefully, "Anotha Late Night" indicates, or inspires, a progression toward coming collaborations.
Throughout the album, Iomos maintains his concern for social conditions in the South Side of Chicago, expressed eloquently in lines such as, "My people's eyes ain't got no feeling" from "The Steele." Yet unlike some unnamed mainstream rappers who expound eloquently on life in the ghetto, Iomos is proud to "Rep the underground/ where I overstand the plan/ 'Cause never sell your soul/ to earn a hundred-grand/ So each one teach one civilized man," as he flows in "Each 1 Teach 1." That is, he uses his lyrical skill not to gripe or boast, but to educate and uplift. On the track "Free," Iomos pleads for "All my people to get Free" above a soulful blend of strings and the voice of local singer Tanya Reed repeating "free," a flow that inspires the spirit as much as it does the dance floor.
While Deep Rooted does not make the common mistake of many debut albums, which feature so many guest appearances that they cloak the identity of the artist himself, it does get some help from a few select and enjoyable fellow musicians. Not surprisingly, Iomos shares the stage with other deserving local talent. Besides the jazz of flautist Nicole Mitchell which takes the aforementioned "Anotha Late Night" to another level of hip hop-jazz collaboration, Chicago's nine-piece jazz band Zzaje provides a soulful neck-breaking and booty-shaking background to "Straight Out Chicago" reminiscent of Marvin Gaye's funkiest tunes. In fact, while there are no weak tracks on Deep Rooted, the one featuring the most well-known guest of the album, "Appetite to Write," featuring J-Live, is one of the least impressive. What is most impressive about that track for those more familiar with J-Live than Chicago underground is how Iomos is not at all outdone by the more famous New York MC.
In short, Deep Rooted is essential Chicago hip hop. Paying tribute to the jazz and soul that spawned the music of today's underground and to the people and city that raised him, this album is an honest and insightful gift of love. Hopefully, its success will give the abundance of musical talent in Chicago the recognition and respect it deserves.
You can pick up Deep Rooted at Dr. Wax Records in Harper Court, and at other music stores throughout the city. Iomos Marad and the Family Tree can be seen tonight at the Hot House, and regularly at clubs throughout the city.