This spring, Rock Mecca has released his second album, Ironworld, both being on Soulspazm Records. His flow is laid back but rough, like Lord Finesse or EPMD. But, entrenched in the slow flow is deep knowledge and desire to spread hope and encouragement. Layered production from Jake Polumbo of SPACELab paints gorgeous and musical tapestries. Polumbo has crafted beats for Rock and Pawz One on their recent killer LPs; mixed and mastered Shabaam Sahdeeq’s Keepers of the Lost Art along with credits on work for Sean Price, Royce Da 5'9", Roc Marciano, Ras Kass, Tony Touch, Smif-N-Wessun, Sadat X, Masta Ace, El Da Sensei, and The Beatnuts.
After an intro, we get into “King of Kings” which contemplates a Dead Prez/PE approach to the system’s mind control tactics. While I find the music underwhelming for an opening cut, the precision and sharp delivery of the lyrics is the prize here. While I think of Jimmy Cliff’s “King of Kings”, the opening sample lays the mindset as it hears from street level graffiti kings to those preparing for Jesus and Mohammed. Out the gates, Mecca spits “Make your idols your rivals, challenge ‘em for my first title/ I enter the ring prepared for battle/ I triumph with my science, bring your Bibles and your rifles”. Afterwards, mecca states a sweet flip Cube’s classic “Steady Mobbin’” prelude into a list of positivity with “Rodney King, Martin Luther King, and all the kings in Africa”. That’s powerful. Very impressive. Mecca kills it with wordplay and vengeance intertwined with one phrase, “we’re back for back pay and payback”. God damn. Flipping words in the second verse continues the mind massage:
“What if some of these MCs were government agents
Their record labels program us through entertainment
The CEO was the CIA and the A&R (A n R) was the N.R.A
Give them guns so they can flash ‘em on their ads in print
Make it rain but gotta bring it back to US Mint
On the back of the album you see the FBI logo
Against piracy because they working for the Po-Po”
The title of that joint does set the tone for the peppered Jamaican/Rocksteady/Reggae references and musicality which will follow; which I appreciate deeply. Never mind having Jamaican born Canibus on the penultimate joint.
Next up is “One Man Gang”. Rock Mecca touts “OMG – One Man Gang – Oh My God – On My Grind”. A dope chop with choral vocals and hi-hats while Mecca reflects upon fighting his entire life. Mecca consistently punches lyrical allusions to the concept of a fighter throughout Ironworld. ‘Life is a constant struggle’ is a salient theme with the many wrestling bars and Mike Tyson ‘90s quotes plus check the song titles: “Survivor Series”, “One Man Gang”, “Stone Cold”, “Gladiator Schools”, “Prizefights” and “Coliseum”, which nods to not only George ‘The Animal Steele’ or the line “Haile Selassie meets Freddie Blassie” (“Stanley Cups”). The end of “One Man Gang” also uses the glorious The Education of Sonny Carsonclip: “sucka think he good. sucka think he can whoop me. I know he can’t whoop me… hey boy (his) whole style chump”. So good.
The third track, “W.A.S.C. (Rebel Anthem)”, belies my description of Rock Mecca’s laid back approach. It’s no coincidence he references Willie D and Bushwick Bill in the first verse. This is an explosive track; exhilarating energy bursting from the speakers. Mecca matches the energy of the first GB album here. Triumphant horns blare while scratches build the excitement which is exponentially amplified when accompanied by the track’s samples. Joseph Simmons’ iconic “Run, Run…” and Chuck D’s “the rebel, the rebel”, and Busta’s emphatic “Powerful impact – BOOM! from the cannon” comprise the hook. The third verse even has Rock Mecca borrow from Uncle L’s “Mama Said Knock You Out”. Clearly made for older heads that will appreciate (and get pumped) from these classics. Rock’s words invigorate.
After some words from Iron Mike, sultry saxophone and strings are placed over rough drums for “Stone Cold”. This loop is dope. The main hook is a quote slowed the f down, “in the belly of the beast – will I survive to tell the tale.” Again some Rocksteady nods with “Tougher than Tough” (Derrick Morgan) and “Rough Rider” (Prince Buster) are embedded in his lyrics. This track is a chilling perspective, with tone set by Tyson’s callous evaluation, on how to maintain. Mecca ends with:
“This awkward, odd beautiful struggle/ On my job like a single mom tryna juggle
Walking on thin ice while situations get thick/ Play the corners if you wanna
Can’t afford another abysmal dismal year/ Playing the rear
Stay all cried out without ever shedding a tear / Live on a prayer”
Mecca finally gets to uses hi lyrics in story mode for a dark, unforgiving world, “Tunnel Visions”. Maybe the title is an allusion to dudes leaving NYC after the clubs, hitting the Tunnels to go back home; while doubling as a metaphor for the myopic vision of what fame offers discarding the outer reality. The harsh visual proposed by Mecca illuminates:
“Before the sun rises / Before the one night stands, the after-parties
Before the flyers litter the floor / Before the bottles on chill
Become glass shards and liquor spilled / Before breathalyzers, broken rubbers, discarded pills
Before the velvet rope turns to yellow tape / A few hours before the drunk girl awakes to holler rape
Before he pops the trunk, stumbling drunk / Parking lots become a Western
And groupies head to the Westin”
Next, “Gladiator Schools” takes its opportunity to give some knowledge from someone who has seen the struggle. Mecca implores to any lost in the system, while they are in the “school of hard knocks, take rocks and make jewels – show and prove even if you born to lose … in the gladiator schools”. Never accepting excuses, Rock imparts that supposed victims don’t let their negative circumstances define a negative life. Born into a shitty life doesn’t mean you have live a shitty existence. “Gladiator Schools”, in fact, is the single of Ironworld (powered by a dope Kool Keith rally cry for the hook), its cover shows a pair of black hands extended through prison bars reading a book, a stunning image. There are not many situations that make you start from the bottom more severely than coming out of jail; marred with a record and rebuilding after being dehumanized. A felon’s existence, having been forged to react with the basest of human instincts, does not translate into ‘normal’ society. But, it is a reality for many.
Here, Roc Marc does his thing. Bomb as always. Mecca spits deadly with lyrical maneuvering dope shit, getting deep in the mental. Some life advice with a cool hook about hard times. Production is layered and smoky anchored by a trumpet line that goes beyond 4 bars; weaving in and out. We hear punching snares and a repeating swelling of lower horns and some other high pitched noises in there. Cool sample at the end to talk of pursuits.
“Prizefights” is another banger, with somber flutes contrasted by boom-bap snares and other instruments. Mecca’s flow speeds up dropping many jewels while Ratigan spits fire dancehall toasting for the hook. Sirens and screeching sneakers are woven in the music bed as we exit the track with an APB call. The somber track ends with a downer.
“Coliseums” returns to that slow delivery, almost chopped and screwed, lol. Nah, but it is a slower BPM - I feel - than the lyrical fury deserves. A minor note. The horns are killer. A spazzing drum track builds tension as it pulsates under the slower instruments. It opens with a verse from the Queens legend, Tragedy Khadafi; a dope track that will having you thinking while energizing you. I mean, I am reviewing this sober. No doubt that as slow as this beat is, as is the later track, “Killa”, the faxed organ (or melodica) riding low and is dope as fuck when you’re lit. The vibes and reverb and spacey tones panning, the sound is, well, killer. In between is Ron G “Stanley Cups”. I like the chosen music elements; sick long over-lapping guitars and horns.
Rock carries this album practically solo, the first half is all him with Ironworld on his solitary back. He then laces side B with guest appearances; but practically one per track; highlighting the tracks guest spot with exactly delivery. And actually, one appearance is that Ratigan joint, who is solely on the reggae hook and one is DJ Ron G. This aids in allowing the listener to embrace the quality of guests; Roc Marc, Tragedy, and Canibus; and Kool Keith with Vast Aire. Guests only occupy a verse on 4/12 tracks. That’s bold these days where every track is jammed with other MCs. Again “Killa” boasts Vast Aire (Cannibal Ox), Kool Keith, and Mach Hommy. It utilizes that Celph Titled (well, Buckwild) sample of Peter Tosh decrying the “Bumbaklatts” and “the fuckery out there” invading radio speakers with knowledge and rebellion instead of “darling, I bloodclot love you” and “shaking their booty”. Definitely for smokers; the wandering guitar lines while the drums are plodding among lots of echo and reverb. Fun as hell.
Ironworld is a captivating release. Rock Mecca and Polumbo have some slower beats and some upper-tempo ones, not simply relying on boom-bap aesthetics. But the maturity and perspective of the lyrics are solidified as wiser. Rock Mecca came hard for his second full length. Mecca approaches his audience as a hardened warrior ready to fight some more. And willing to persevere until the bell rings.