The Iron Mic Coalition formed several years ago as a collective of Memphis hip-hop artists who fit neither the city's dominant mainstream rap style nor the indie hip-hop style. Originally, the group brought together four self-contained local hip-hop entities: M.O.S., Fyte Club, Kontrast, and producer/rapper Fathom 9.
This second full-length album from the IMC showcases seven MCs, five producers (three of them among the MCs), and one DJ, with several voices emerging: Jason the Hater, gruff and comical; Mighty Quinn, smooth and fierce; Derelick, nasally and sly; Yasin Allah, all honeyed-baritone confidence.
With these disparate voices mixing across dense, soulful tracks, the result is something like a Bluff City Wu-Tang Clan: dense, rattling, lyrically and vocally inconsistent. This second album misses the booming, staccato flow of Kontrast's Empee, who provided some of the best vocal moments on the first Iron Mic disc (especially the solo "Empee's Lament") but who only appears as a producer here.
There are occasional lapses into standard-issue battle-rhyme gibberish, but mostly this is a cut above what most conceive as Memphis rap. "Ole School Break" is an early highlight, with a strong leadoff verse from Derelick before Quinn flips Slick Rick's "Children's Story" for a bit of autobiography.
"Quick to act and slow to speak" from "Hickory Ridge to the Arkansas bridge," Iron Mic's music is not as placeless as most indie hip-hop. The blues and old soul samples aren't at all definitively Memphis, but a song called "Monday Night" that's about wrestling rather than football sure is. The group takes stronger aim at its hometown on "Raindrops," where Derelick announces, "We come from the home of grimy soul music/We got a heritage/We gotta learn how to use it."
Ultimately, Iron Mic's vitality comes in representing a considerable, mostly silent slice of the city's African-American hip-hop audience: people who don't relate to Three 6 Mafia or Project Pat or Yo Gotti and never thought there'd be Memphis-bred hip-hop for them. — Chris Herrington
The Iron Mic Coalition performs at the Hi-Tone Café Saturday, March 29th. Doors open at 9 p.m.