CunninLynguists, a Southern hip-hop trio with a provocative name, have a talent for capturing attention. Though they’re an "underground" group, members Deacon the Villain, Kno, and Natti have maintained a strong presence in the hip-hop community since they entered the industry nearly two decades ago.
Earlier this month, the veteran outfit brought their six-year hiatus to an end when, on October 7, they released Rose Azura Njano, the group's first new album since 2011's Oneirology.
“This album we just dropped wouldn’t have dropped without Donald Trump,” said Deacon, while on a conference call with fellow CunningLynguists MC Natti. “He brought up a conversation that we’re always ready to have. We’re built for this conversation.”
Originally from Kentucky, Deacon and Natti admit they aren’t surprised that so many people love Trump's shocking mannerisms. Likewise, both artists believe Trump brings a raw, provocative energy, which had been dormant but connects well because people want that fire. Unfortunately, with Trump, that fire has been accompanied by racism, sexism, bigotry, incompetence, and lies.
On the album's opening track, “Red, White & Blues,” the two emcees poignantly share their love for the United States despite the hardships of their ancestors (“Even after everything you put my blood through / Every descendant of a slave ought to cuss you / Throw a middle finger up and say, 'Fuck you' / America, my love's true"). Deacon believes the song, as well as the album as a whole, will serve as a conversation starter about challenging topics like race without alienating anyone.
Unlike most of their previous albums, Rose Azura Njano is edgier with more of a bite. It’s more introspective, contemplative and accusatory than anything the group has produced over the past 16 years. While Dirty Acres (2007) reflected on the presidency of George W. Bush and established the group as one entirely unafraid to speak politically, their newest LP contains even more grit.
“Trump makes me wish Bush was in office,” Natti says. “But the more things change, the more they stay the same. America was under the assumption we were over the whole racism thing when Barack Obama was in office and here comes this inflammatory guy who made our country realize we’re not as past this whole racism thing as we think we are.”
A response to racism on Rose is delivered in the form of a double-edged sword, both as a reaction to our government and to the overwhelming fears of the American people. It’s also a conversation about black identity.
The album's title, Rose Azura Njano, is based on the primary color wheel. If you take all the colors in the wheel and mix them together, it makes black. And black music, as Deacon explains, is a combination of all the American sounds like jazz, blues, gospel, and rap. As such, the title character, Rose, is a personification of black music.
When the album isn't entrenched in politics, though, it shines a bright light on some of the most influential figures in black music. "Jimi & Andre (B-Side)" focuses on iconic electronic guitarist Jimi Hendrix and soul singer Andre Crouch. Another, "Mr. Morganfield & Ms. Waters (A-Side)," shines the spotlight on blues legend Muddy Waters.
In all of its many forms and through various types of samples that are expertly employed by producer Kno, Rose Azura Njano is a concept album that serves to fight back against the powers that be while also offering some semblance of hope.
“It's up to the artists like us and the Kendrick Lamars of the world,” said Deacon. “Hopefully, more white artists [like Eminem] get involved. Hopefully, we can stomp out the third of the country that voted for Trump.”
Welcome back, gentlemen.