Disclaimer: I am a fan of hip hop, but I am by no means a hip hop writer. I’m still blasting cuts from a 1996 De La Soul album in my car, so from that tidbit alone you can tell roughly where it is that I fall on the hip hop relevancy spectrum.
As I listened to the first and subsequent tracks, I wasn’t blown away by the beats but was struck by Mondega’s voice and lyrical content. While many of the Raleigh, NC (by way of Vietnam) emcee's Asian American colleagues rap with a social justice angle, For the People is most definitely a concept album with the threads of struggle and hope running through each song, starting with war in Southeast Asia and ending with the challenges of life in America. Mondega addresses everyone from the poor to young women to hopeful Asian American musicians fighting for representation.
Lyrically, Mondega possesses the rare talent to be political without being didactic; to be clever without being glib. He cheekily declares himself “The Best Asian Rapper Alive” only to dismiss the title immediately as a ploy to get people’s ears perked up. He’s no class clown, but the guy’s got a sense of humor and it keeps the album, heavy on social commentary, from weighing heavily on ears and souls.
That said, I regret that I wasn’t drawn to the music as much as I was to Mondega, the lyricist. I don’t necessarily need to hear club bangers or anything, but some more diversity in the instrumentation would have further enhanced the lyrics themselves. In my fantasies, I’m envisioning Mondega hook up with Black Milk for a little collaboration involving live drums and full backing band.
However, the final track of the album -- entitled “Reprimanded” -- really demonstrated Mondega’s promise. There’s no hook, no chorus, and only the faint din of a groovy backing track yet you’re fully engaged as he simply talks about life. Superlative Rapper titles aside, that is clearly what Mondega does best.