The long-awaited collaboration between Minneapolis-St. Paul hip-hop pioneers Muja Messiah and I Self Devine is mostly an act of collage, with pro-black, anti-police sentiments dominating its most lucid moments. The most striking part of 9th House, though, is how it's equal parts loose and specific to its environment.
You can scoff at astrology and still be moved by 9th House, the long-awaited collaboration between Minneapolis-St. Paul hip-hop pioneers Muja Messiah and I Self Devine. The record’s title and some of its window dressings gesture at Jupiter’s movements, but the artists find themselves planted firmly in the Twin Cities streets they’ve defined and documented over the past two decades.
For those unfamiliar, Muja made a name for himself in the early 2000s with a string of show-stealing guest verses, before his solo LPs—like last year’s God Kissed It, the Devil Missed It—solidified him as the Cities’ sneering id. (He’s also written verses for several of your favorite yacht-owning rappers.) I Self Devine’s legacy stretches back even further: together with DJ Kool Akiem as the Micranots, he was one of the first genuine Minneapolis stars, to the point where his nod helped solidify Rhymesayers in its infancy.
Rapping together for the first time at length, it’s quickly apparent that Muja and Chaka invert the old duo dynamics. The two MCs still present the point and counter-point on a single theme, but where the variance in many a group setting has come from each rapper’s writing, it’s evident on 9th House mostly in the tone of the vocals. Self is gruff, guttural, and earnest, and Muja’s voice is the audio equivalent of that .gif where Birdman rubs his hands together in front of doves and an explosion.
That’s seen most clearly on "Arrow Dynamics": Muja’s "Diagnosed: ADHD/ For white folks, that’s a disability" and Self’s "Well-dressed niggas get hit, like, ‘Where the product at?’/ White trash pulling dime sacks out their Prada bags" complement each other, while in more similar hands they might combine to be too on-the-nose. The song’s hook, though, converges at the group’s de facto mission statement: "Gun up on my hip, I won’t bust it at my nigs/ But I guarantee I’m shooting at the cops, though." It’s clear, and it’s potent.
And it’s morbidly prescient: On November 15th, a Minneapolis police officer shot and killed a 24-year-old black man named Jamar Clark. Multiple eyewitnesses say Clark was handcuffed when the fatal shot was fired; police deny that he had been handcuffed, but have yet to release video of the incident. Protesters reacted swiftly, shutting down the I-94 freeway and, more recently, occupying the 4th Precinct in North Minneapolis. It was there that five protesters were shot, apparently by a small group of white supremacists. (No one was critically injured.) The following night, more shots were fired at those assembled. At the time of this writing, hundreds of people remain in the blocks surrounding the precinct, and thousands have marched through downtown Minneapolis demonstrating against Clark’s killing, the absence of video evidence, and the police response to the subsequent shootings.
Muja has even inserted himself into the protests,demanding answers in Mayor Betsy Hodges’ foyer andclarifying that he’s a “concerned citizen” unaffiliated with any political movement. That sounds about right:9th House is mostly an act of collage, with pro-black, anti-police sentiments dominating its most lucid moments. There’s malt liquor, gold slippers, and promises to "suplex label reps," but when the MCs cut through, they do it with a knife that’s carefully pointed. On "IOFWUCUC" (an acronym for "I Only Fuck With You ‘Cause You Crazy"), Self raps, "Dreaming of peace and violence/ Don’t wanna be a martyr/ Defiance in my blood running as clear as water." For two men who would seemingly expect their closest confidants to read between the lines, some anxieties are made refreshingly clear.
The most striking part of 9th House, perhaps even more than its politics, is how it's equal parts loose and specific to its environment. The former quality is thanks to beats from J.Hard, M¥K, and Orko Eloheim, the latter to the Holiday Inn on Eleventh Street and Rashad McCants. In an unsettling time for Minneapolis-St. Paul, 9th House is the record the Cities have created for themselves.