EP Review: Otis Mensah – Rap Poetics

The rap psalmist, mum’s house philosopher, northern rucksack wearing hip-hop genius, otherwise known as Otis Mensah, released his new EP Rap Poetics this week. It’s not only a pensive journey, but a real joy to listen to with soulful beats and masterly bars. Whether you listen with your heart or your head, it’s phenomenal and worth taking 13 minutes out of your day to vibe with.

R-r-r-rrr-rewind. In 2018, Magid Magid named Otis Sheffield’s first poet-laureate, deeming him to be “dynamic, skilful and radical.” You can CERTAINLY say that again! Rap Poetics, as well as his 2018 release Mums House Philosopher, are deeply concerned with societies contradictions. He touches upon subjects of mental health, discrimination, reflections of the self, the environment – all in a tone of upmost honesty and openness. There is a sense of reclamation about Otis and his art, an upheaval of archaic expectations regarding ‘academia’ and rap. I have often thought about the ways in which rap, and even spoken word to some extent, has been disregarded as trivial in relation to ‘capital P Poetry’. Similarly, I’m sure we are all familiar with the argument that rap and hip-hop is nothing but violent and crude. So… in this climate of hypocrisy and elitism, Otis Mensah is a breath of fresh air.

Otis Mensah via exposedmagazine.co.uk

Right out of the gate, in ‘Ted Talks’, the first line is: “Old, rich and white reciting somebody else’s lines. It might take a nation of millions to save a generation that’s built on raping and pillaging.” Otis is immediately evocative, confronting us with paradoxes of society that demand our attention. On his bandcamp he states that the EP “is an ode to valuing art as activism in the face of oppressive systems.” Tipping his hat to the old, rich white men in the first line he continues to chip away at their pedestal, destabilising their authority. Yet, it all seems so natural, without frills or braggadocio. The fade in, the ‘SKKRRRT’, the laughing at the end, referencing Ted Talks and Tiny Desk concerts, it’s so accessible and down to earth. In various interviews Otis has alluded to the inspiration he has taken from hip-hop that isn’t afraid to be vulnerable, for example Kid Cudi who’s 2009 album Man On The Moon is undeniably candid about his struggles with mental health and addiction. On Rap Poetics, Otis’ transparency can be heard on all tracks, in particular ‘Under the Bed’ which features lines such as: “How do I fight for a world that I’m barely in?” and ‘They wipe you out of history unless you’re looking Aryan’. His frankness increases the impact exponentially. Coupled with his sharp wit, this EP acts as a corrective lens increasing our clarity and perception of the world around us.

Alongside his phenomenal lyricism, Rap Poetics showcases some wicked boom-bap beats as well as influences from jazz and soul collated and produced by the intern, SlopFunkDust, Jackie Moonbather, Daryl Donald and bluestone the minor. ‘1 Euro Jazz’ begins with a lil story of how the jangly, grainy backing piano track was discovered, it lends almost a lo-fi vibe to this track – definitely one of my favs! Shoutout’s must also go to Alastair Flindall Creator of Kunstity for the stunning artwork as well as GRIT MULTIMEDIA for their work on the music video for ‘Grand Finale Funeral Show’. The video depicts Mensah sweeping and performing on a stage, toiling away at the pleasure of the audience (who are also himself, confusing to describe so just go watch it!!). It features extreme, intimate close ups and dynamic shots which heighten the immediacy of the track. Confronted with the line “You know my name but you don’t know me at all”, repeated for extra punch, the video closes with the backpack wearing poet disappearing behind the stage curtain.

Rap Poetics is jam-packed with remarkable lyricism, every track exudes wit, honesty, vulnerability, humour, urgency as well as hope. He isn’t wrong on ‘1 Euro Jazz’, alluding to “a flow that evolves and revolves to resemble waves crashing.” Otis Mensah’s powerful poetry is a tidal wave, seeking to cleanse the art world from elitism and prejudice.

The verdict: A glass of cold, crisp, cloudy lemonade SPECIFICALLY on a sunny day in the park. It’s fresh, sharp, sweet and perfectly refreshing. Excuse me sir, please can I get a refill??

Listen for yourself:

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