Raleigh rapper King Mez is a prefect of hip-hop morals—a bright, value-driven hip-hop enthusiast whose lyrics and Jordans have just as much if not more value than his self-made diadem. Perhaps because of that high-ethics approach, King Mez has delivered a freshman masterpiece, My Everlasting Zeal [stream/download], a record that should secure his spot as the new ruler of North Carolina's often-tired rap kingdom.
North Carolina needed another classic rap album, just as hip-hop at large currently needs a new class act. While the greater rap world is consumed by the manufactured hype surrounding Chicago rapper Chief Keef (an emcee whose combined amateurism, criminal pedigree and daftness have provided interest for a shallow rap act devoid of any strains of moral or artistic quality), King Mez climbs from the presumptuous throne into the pragmatic driver's seat, weaving his way through the hubbub to demonstrate what makes it so hard for all of us to take the straight-and-narrow path. Mez seems to have unloaded a lot of the requisite, ritualistic one-upmanship on last year's promising The King's Khrysis EP. Here, on My Everlasting Zeal, he's able to outline and advocate for his principles on sharp verses of royal rap brilliance.
An atmospheric catapult from the Raleigh-raised emcee's 2010 joint project with producer Commissioner Gordon, The Parapleglics, M.E.Z. finds the King in control. He's enlisted six additional producers here, giving him the chance to show his skills over several different templates. Gordon and Mez do join forces on four of the album's tracks, including the manifesto "The Crown" and "Monte Carlo," in which King Mez leans back on Commissioner Gordon's star-lit, drum-deranged beats between the quilted scratches of (appropriately, former Little Brother assistant) DJ Flash. "Only hang with kings/ very few in this world," he asserts, delivering it more like a matter of fact than a means of boast.
Maybe that's because Mez has been working with Fayetteville, N.C., emcee J. Cole, signed to Jay-Z's Roc Nation label. He doesn't need to climb any more local ladders, he seems to suggest, because he knows a guy who knows the top guy, and maybe that's enough. The J. Cole-produced single "The Allure" is indeed a prequel to Jay-Z's "Allure." In 2003, Mr. Carter recalled his days as a busy street hustler, rapping "cause I be doin' the most." Mez smartly takes the opposite approach, showing how he's different by admitting that, as far as the fast life goes, he has done the least: "I coulda been arrogant but I was humbled by my tears/ always was bright/ but now my candle chandeliers." By flipping that dining room fixture into a verb, his anti-street-life enlightenment shines perfectly. And this isn't naiveté—this is purity, with a gospel-like push for a hazardless lifestyle, meaning M.E.Z. is a "hallelujah" or two from turning itself into a Sunday séance.
So is King Mez a saint or a super-rapper? Probably neither. But he is a man of virtue and a rhyme virtuoso, a combination that's surprisingly alluring and energizing on My Everlasting Zeal. On "Reign," King Mez asks "Whatchu 'sposed to be king of? Matter fact, how you know what a king does?" No, he's not saying that he's a messiah or a conduit to the divine, but across this album, he tells us indirectly that—as far as rap in The Tar Heel State goes right now—he's our leader. And like The Listening a decade before it, this is the new classic text.