Natti – Still Motion
Record Label – APOS Music
Release Date – September 24, 2013
Kentucky/Atlanta rapper Natti has never received the proper amount of credit for his work with the CunninLynguists. Maybe it’s because Kno’s acclaimed production gets all the attention or because Natti wasn’t an original group member along with Kno and Deacon The Villain, but the truth is that the group didn’t really hit their stride until Natti joined the crew for the 2006 release of their defining third album A Piece of Strange. Natti’s vocal style was thoughtful and positive like Deacon and Kno’s, but his booming delivery and streetwise perspective gave the group an edge they had been previously missing. His talent and work ethic were evident from the start and his song stealing verses have helped make the CunninLynguists one of the most vital southern rap groups of the last 10 years. After I heard his performance on their dream themed album Oneirology from 2011, it was clear that Natti needed to put out a solo album, and quick. Thankfully not long after Oneirology’s release it was announced that Natti was indeed working on his first album entitled Still Motion. The title refers back to Natti’s original rap name and the album serves as the perfect introduction to Natti, both as an artist and as a black man trying to survive and strive in America. Natti is a man of contradictions, but he’s also incredibly self-aware. He uses the album to get his thoughts and perspective out to the world without pulling any punches.
Still Motion may lack the signature shimmer that Kno’s front-to-back production has given every CunninLynguists album to date, but Kno does contribute three standout beats that serve as reminders as to why he’s considered one of hip hop’s best beat makers. On “Another Galaxy”, which stands out as one of the album’s strongest cuts, Natti declares "Dammit this is not my planet/ at least I hope not cuz I really can't stand it" and metaphorically details how he uses weed as a temporary respite from his uncomfortable surroundings (both in life and in the rap game). More than any song on Still Motion, “Another Galaxy” would be a perfect fit on a CunninLynguists album due to its polished, ethereal feel and because of Kno’s seamless sample combinations. Kno also contributes production for “Just Like You”, which marks the third time that Natti has traded verses with the always-ill Freddie Gibbs, and “Filthy Hard”, a track that explains how the world around Natti has shaped his current skeptical perspective that sin is an unavoidable part of his life, for better or for worse.
The remainder of Still Motion was produced by Natti’s partner in rhyme Deacon the Villain. While I knew Deacon was an accomplished singer (he contributes vocals on 6 songs), I had no idea what to expect from him as a producer. It’d be tough for him to shine under the long shadow that Kno casts, but Deacon really holds his own throughout the album and shows off a fully evolved production style. Kno has cited Organized Noize as an influence in the past, but Deacon’s work behind the boards actually sounds more like Organized Noize than anything I’ve heard from Kno. Every Deacon production is funky, organic, and entrenched in musicality. The smoked-out, melodic groove of “Late Night Cruise” makes it feel like a direct descendant of “Funky Ride”, a standout Organized Noize production from the first Outkast album. Tracks like “Underground Railroad” and “Black Diamonds” also bring Outkast to mind because of their soulful production and the way Natti lays out his daily artistic struggle against the face of systematic oppression and an endless array of illegal alternatives. These themes are taken even farther on “Pusher Man” and “Architecture”. Both are fully realized concept songs that highlight Natti’s strong songwriting ability. “Pusher Man”’s concept of comparing the rap game to the drug game has been done before, but Natti’s clever wordplay and unique perspective on the rap game make it one of the most insightful songs of the year. Deacon’s bouncy production is the album’s best beat and gives “Pusher Man” endless replay value. “Architecture” features excellent guest appearances from Sha Stimuli and Substantial and another complex, sample driven beat from Deacon that, like “Pusher Man”, made me think it had to be a Kno beat when I first heard it. Each MC contributes a verse about a modern structure, what it represents, and how it came to be. Natti raps about a house built off of the drug game, Sha rhymes about the structure of the rap game, and Substantial adds a verse about America’s school system. Each verse is powerful by itself, but together they paint a clear picture of how America’s system is flawed on many levels.
Natti is never overtly political on Still Motion but he’s not afraid to speak his mind and always has the goal of rising his people up. Any advice he offers comes from his own personal experiences and while he doesn't have all the answers, he's quick to remind listeners of outcomes they're likely to face if they make too many of the wrong decisions while living in a world that's rarely fair. The fact he’s aware of his flaws, as well as the choices he has to make just to survive, keeps him grounded instead of allowing him to come off as preachy or detached. He proves throughout his debut album that he doesn’t need Kno’s production to shine and he’s equally comfortable in a group setting or as a solo artist. Still Motion will undoubtedly get overshadowed in a year filled with an equal amount of both legitimately great and severely over-hyped rap albums, but it shouldn’t be. Natti is one of the best rappers alive and Deacon The Villain is a producer to keep your eye on. The CunninLynguists camp has been committed to crafting quality albums for a while now, Still Motion is just the latest example.