By Mike Kinney
Soul Rap Psychology could not be released to the world at a better time. Amidst the turmoil of a global pandemic, national unrest over racial injustice and fierce election campaigning comes much-needed mental medicine in the form of music.
Richmond artist O-Naje’s newest album, set for release Friday, July 24, is a unique collaboration with Oakland songwriter Benni Jerrod, aka Benni J, and the birth of an explorative brand of music they call Soul Rap. Having a difficult day? Throw this on and lie back for a while. You’ll feel better, and your priorities might change.
The 18-track Soul Rap Psychology combines musicians who bring different, yet complementary styles with a shared message centering on mental and physical wellbeing and expanding limits through thoughtful introspection. A-Don and J-Flo contribute to the album, which centers on themes of positivity, persistence, self-improvement, and perhaps above all, self-acceptance.
“Every day I know myself more; Tell me what else is life for?,” asks the track, Get Quiet, which follows with the answer, “To seek and find, refine, self-define, to know my mind is divine.”
On the track, What is Your Psychology, Oakland psychotherapist Dr. Vernita Marsh, who happens to be O-Naje’s auntie, offers perspective by sampling from the documentary, “What is Psychology–Crash Course with Key Insights & Fundamentals.”
Meanwhile, Mind+Body+Spirit centers on nutrition for the mental and physical. “Do I live to eat or eat to live?,” the song poses to listeners. “Do I be myself or do the same ol shh…that everybody else do, be the obvious question, instant gratification was my first lesson.”
In an interview with the Standard, O-Naje called the album “a journey and exploration of deep personal insight, melodic harmonies and spiritual lyrical content.” One aim is to leave listeners “in a state of energized calmness,” he said.
O-Naje said the body of work pioneers a sub-genre of rap that’s important at a time when people are yearning for peace of mind and self-empowerment.
“It’s high vibratory hip-hop with uplifting lyrics and depth,” he said. “It leaves you feeling better than you were before listening to it.”
O-Naje spent about three months in the studio producing the album alongside Benni J. That coincides with a year in which the Richmond artist has been consistent in practicing yoga, which he’s been doing on and off for about six years. His musical influences are Bobby Womack, Teddy Pendergrass and Al Green.
“On a commercial level there’s a very narrow idea about what hip-hop is,” O-Naje said. “We are here to introduce an alternative. ‘Soul Rap Psychology’ is bringing balance for music listeners.”