TURK TARRIES BETWEEN NOSTALGIC 90s HIP HOP AND MODERNISM ON HIS LATEST PROJECT “1 9 9 X”.
The pursuit of paying homage to your influence(s) while also crafting your own lane in your own skin is often hit or miss. Very rarely is that balance perfectly struck. Lesotho born and based MC, TURK, real name Bataung Moeketsi, achieves this feat on his latest project aptly titled “1 9 9 X”.
Having a vision is one thing. Being able to satisfactorily execute that vision and have it manifest as you imagined is something entirely different. From its meta title, “1 9 9 X”, to its cover art, a picture of the rapper as a toddler riding a tri-cycle, TURK’s project is steeped in 90s Hip Hop sensibilities, and this is a vision he makes clear from the onset. The project is not conceptual in the traditional sense of concept albums, however it has a recurring theme of him paying homage to what made him the MC that he is today. 90s Hip Hop.
The opener is tinged in a montage of 90s-esque movie clips which reference “grown folk music” and “growing up wanting to become a rapper”, a motif that is reminiscent, and as such could serve an intentional or unintentional homage to Nas’ “Illmatic” intro. A clip of KRS-ONE talking about what it means to be a Hip Hop scholar is tucked at the end. This then bleeds into the second track, “90s Baby”. In it, he earnestly raps “ashamed to say Lil Bow Wow is what I would listen to/ He had me thinking I could do it if he did it too/ Later heard of Nas, “Still Matic”, “It Was Written” too/ My sister put me on to a lot when she was in middle school/”. An early highlight of the project, its impact is accentuated by the brooding instrumental that embodies the 90s Hip Hop feel without sounding too dated. As the project continues, he employs the tried and tested interlude tropes that, while lacking originality, do serve as useful segues in making the project diverse in subject matter. They also add some level of comic relief.
While it has taken many forms since its inception in the 70s, a component that has always been omnipresent in Hip Hop is the combative aspect. Most MCs value constantly proving that they are lyrically the best. TURK is no different. He does not shy away from illustrating his lyrical prowess and telling you that he can really rap. “100 – 1 Freestyle” is as much a brazen delivery as it is an exceptional spectacle of a lyrical display.
The latter part of the project charters into a more introspective territory which also introduces an overstated modernised sound reliant on synths and 808s. This is not entirely a departure from the 90s Hip Hop mode the project’s been on, but rather a progression from it. It helps that the sound architect at the helm of the entire project is the immensely talented and industrious super producer, Taks Beats, who has done an incredible job in engineering the perfect backdrop for TURK to tell his tales. TURK challenges himself and addresses topics he has rarely discussed in his previous offerings. He addresses feelings of self-doubt, regret, hope, fear, concern and ambition in a way that does not feel contrived. It shows that he has matured and that life has dealt him a couple of blows. What is important though, is that he seems to have reconciled himself with that reality and despite it all, still bears a semblance of overcoming, even if it’s not clear how that will happen. “Do It For” finds him at his most honest and vulnerable, yet stoic and assertive in his self-belief and motivation.
The project is devoid of any guest features, save for a vocalist Aura Griffiths, who features on a total of four songs. Aura notably assists on “Freedom”, a distressed anthem lamenting the unbecoming political status of Lesotho, as well as on “Be”, which finds both artists exploring the themes of self-identity and self-worth. The lack of features points to the conclusion that this is a passion project with which TURK wants to fully display not only his capabilities but his heart and soul. Interesting to note is that he uses, whether intentionally or otherwise, the literary device of naming one’s characters instead of referring to them in relation to who or what they are to you as the storyteller. He mentions Amy the same way Nas mentions Tameka, Kendrick mentions Sherane, Andre mentions Sasha Thumper and Jay-Z mentions Colleek/Ty-Ty. This can be viewed as insignificant, however there is some value in giving characters in one’s story names because that gives them their own life, insofar as the story permits of course. It also doesn’t make them set-pieces or objects used merely just to advance the storyteller’s story.
TURK has vehemently refused to call “1 9 9 X” an album or an ep or a mixtape. Instead, he has preferred to just refer to it as a project. Only he knows why this distinction is important. Regardless of what it is, one thing for sure is that it is a magnificent body of work. It is evidence that when an artist believes in themselves, they can achieve exactly what it is they want to achieve. TURK has always believed that he can make a notable Lesotho Hip Hop classic that will be forever be etched in the rich yet shambolic history of Hip Hop in Lesotho. Time will tell whether “1 9 9 X” is such a project.