Stik Figa, the most recent Mello Music Group signee, fits right in with his new hip hop colleagues. The MMG brand always assures the listener that they receive the artist’s work as is, with no gimmicky coercions or shifty media maneuvers from their label. Even though Stik inadvertently pinpoints that trait with his label debut, As Himself, the Topeka, KS native manages to commit with a likeable, down-home personality, good rhymes, and a gorgeous assortment of beats.
In this era of rap, artist agency, or the extent of their own freedom while producing content, is not only advised but encouraged and necessary. Agency, in the eyes of the record label, usually reduces to a binary decision of “can we market this or not.” However, the best content usually comes from surrendering to an artist’s free reign, allowing them to cull inspiration from the darkest pit of their mind to how easily the beat rides. The corporate machine (always the de facto target here at DEHH) clearly shies away from that. Remember the latter half of Radioactive and Nicki Minaj’s entire career? Yeah, artist agency rules.
That being said, a person like Stik Figa would not succeed without it. His easygoing personality and chuckle-heavy ad-libs do not “go hard in the paint” or “get the party jumping,’ as the kids might say. Likewise, raps about Topeka’s hardworking middle class (“Everyday”) and encouraging women to “love the skin they’re in” (“Susan B”) seem pretty antithetical to the get-money, have-sex-now, deny-paternity-later quality that mainstream rap admires. But creating that type of sound and aisle-stretching appeal was never his intention. As the album cover suggests, Stik feels much more comfortable in a hoodie and rumpled sneaks than in a Gucci somethingorother and Louis Vuitton thingamabob.
Thankfully, trading marketability for personal conviction has many perks. While his slightly rustic accent can occasionally garble a word or two and some hooks feel really weird, Stik Figa has a neat, clever lyricism. It can get involved without feeling too verbose, like on the down-on-luck track “Medicine”: “this narrative imperative in anguish I should speak/scared, its embarrasin’ when sharin’ with the meek.” He knows how to ride a beat to maximize the weight of his rhymes, and the sound provided by frequent Tech N9ne collaborator, Seven, delves into sumptous ground filled with horns, blissful piano, soulful guitar sampling, full-bodied bass and foot-thumpin’ rhythm.
The beat on “Absitively” righteously rolls into existence with an avalanche of snares, grumbling bass and jingle bells, paving the way for Stik’s witty words: “Now prosper with me who as awesome as me/ kill a song and use the bone go flossin’ my teeth.” The track “Knawhatimsayin” turns down the previous track’s emphatic sounds for effortlessy cool jazz, using mellow keys, a pit-pat on the bongo and soothing drum brush to clear the air for some rather existential musings: “Is the grass much greener on your side of the fence/and when you watch the game, better if you right on the bench/ is the game that you playin’ worth tryin’ to win/’cuz regardless, we all gon’ die in the end.”
And a final standout, “Susan B,” features a suave beat that heaves with the passion of a 70s era blaxploitation love scene. It’s composed of watery guitar licks, fat-bottomed bass, luscious organ, and a sweltering vocal sample in the background, providing the soapbox for Stik Figa’s female endeavors: “I don’t care that your waist ain’t the circumference of a pencil/got a jones for big bones, it’s just something that I’m into.” I really dig the hook too, where he uses the “dime” nickname for women in context of the Susan B. Anthony coin, spinning it into a nice manifesto.
For 35 minutes of an MC’s honest, comfortable persona split over ten tracks supplied by Seven’s meticulously rendered instrumentation, look no further than As Himself. Stik Figa obviously sounds way more seasoned and relaxed than a newcomer, but the feel of this ambitious album has the urgency and idiosyncratic ticks of one, just like most of his MMG labelmates- Oddisee, Hassaan Mackey, Boog Brown, Has-Lo- tend to have due to their personal reign. Shoot, it’s new to me, and more importantly, it’s exactly what Stik wanted me to hear.