Album Review by Mark Bayross
Brooklyn-born rapper Divine Styler has seen all sorts of ups and downs in his decade and a half of music-making – hanging out with Ice-T and Everlast, having a magazine named after him, going to jail – but he has only got round to releasing three albums.
His 1989 debut, WORD POWER, was a rush of positive-message wordplay and politically-aware sentiment, ground-breaking for its time. However, 1992’s follow-up, SPIRAL WALLS saw him experiment with a wider sonic palette and, unfortunately, it bombed. He turned to Islam, releasing the highly personal BEFORE MECCA 12″, on which shared his feelings on Allah and his own rebirth with the world: “Before Mecca I was studying the enemy sector / seeing the acceptor / setting up the Babylon director / forever my rawness is the ill Black calculus / encrypt God code on my DNA figure”.
Now, the year 2000 sees him return with the ambitiously sprawling WORD POWER 2, this time on Mo’Wax, including BEFORE MECCA within its 18 tracks. This time, he has combined the lyrical dexterity of his debut album with the sonic variety of SPIRAL WALLS, and fortunately, the world is better prepared.
The music here varies from minimalist electronica (THE GRAND DESIGN), sometimes with Kraftwerk-style processed vocal samples (CONTACT 2), to stabs of jazz (the aforementioned BEFORE MECCA). The beats ebb and flow for the most part, although on HAJJI (about Divine’s pilgrimage to Mecca) and TIME FOLD ’79, they get seriously funky.
At times the combination of flowing rhymes and worthy wordplay over the layered scratches and samples reminds me of the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, another superb hip-hop outfit whose boundary-pushing met with mainly bewilderment from the record-buying public.
This album deserves to put Divine Styler back on the map. With hypnotic electronics (MAKE IT PLAIN) or supremely funky beats (MICROPHENIA) and the raps delivered in a variety of sit-up-and-listen styles and speeds, what you have here is a seriously engaging album. It is made even more worthwhile by the anti-violence, pro-awareness lyrics and the sound of a man who has left his dark past behind and embraced the future. In short, this is the sound of self-confidence.