Knowing how to grab the listener’s attention right from the off is a skill in its own right. Most try to do it through a swift musical punch, Shawn Dinero instead choses to kick things off with a fairly uncomfortable soundbite from True Romance. But it isn’t just an excuse to get the N word in early, to be controversial; discussing, as the characters in the film are doing, Moorish heritage and cultural impact, is a great way of establishing an underlaying theme of the album. Circle 7 is also the name of the Moorish Science Temple of America’s holy book and this album takes many of the same themes and weaves them through cutting edge Hip-Hop and underground Rap.
And right from the word go there is something very unique about the music. It may be front loaded with the sort of lyrics and beats that such genres have called their own since it moved out of South Bronx youth centres and into the wider world but there is also an intricate network of arabesque musical blends, intricate exotic textures, and deft and sumptuous sonic layering. The perfect blend of east and west, orient and occident.
But although such unique musical motifs are the most obvious early musical reference, it is far from the only one. Melting Pot is shot through with wandering chamber pop flourishes and fluttering incidental music, Broken Heart balances the straighter rap deliveries with 60s infused soul and King of the North juggles everything from renaissance keyboard sounds to futuristic electronica, skittering beats to brooding bass lines.
Rap and Hip-Hop has always been as much about the message as the music and Circle 7 is as astute slice of social commentary as you will find in this or any other genre. Supreme Rhyme Mathematic is a from the heart reflection on the streets that the artist comes from and the possibility of using music to rise above its daily grind and dangers. A familiar theme perhaps but there is something honest here about the the way that the subject is dealt with. Liberation is a call to arms, or at least a call to awareness, an anthemic reminder that you can destroy the revolutionary or freedom fighter but not the revolution or the fight for freedom using rebellious rap and political soundbites.
Hip-Hop and the Rap scene that it spawned has, in many people’s eyes, veered too far from the cultish and the underground and made its home in more commercial realms. And whilst there is nothing wrong with using such a path to seek a better life, to become successful, that path all too often requires the artist to compromise their style, their beliefs, their message and play by the music industry rules. What we have in Circle 7 and Shawn Dinero is an album and an artist who makes music capable of reaching out to a wider audience, to break out of the underground, but do so without watering down the message. And that is what is known as integrity.