In hip-hop as in life, where you’re from can play a huge role in where you’re at. Take rapper Sen Morimoto, who makes music under the name Morimoto. He’s called Chicago home for two years but grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts, where he experimented with music and in the late aughts honed his voice as a member of young collective Dark World, a group with a love of harsh noise, folk, punk, and hip-hop.
What appears to matter most to Dark World’s members isn’t genre designations, but the desire to help one another make their own noise. As Morimoto told Boston music blog Allston Pudding in a recent Dark World profile, “We pretty much immediately had each other’s back on shit and took all of the music very seriously. Even when we made stupid music, we all supported each other.”
Morimoto displayed the seriousness with which he and his friends approach their music with his debut, 2013’s Black Mass, which was produced by DJ Lucas, a Dark World rapper who recently released a full-length collaboration of alluringly turgid and woozy tracks with rapper God’s Wisdom through Juiceboxxx‘s Thunderzone label. Black Mass showcases Morimoto’s verbal acuity and speed, which he harnesses for a playful but acidic bite.
He excels on the album when he employs his battle-ready skills for bombastic rhymes, occasionally throwing in lines to purposefully needle listeners. Just before he rips into hack Soundcloud MCs on “Bad Boys Club,” Morimoto describes himself as “half yellow and half white,” and at the time he rapped under the name Jap, primarily, as he told Allston Pudding, to antagonize audience members at shows.
But after releasing Black Mass Morimoto decided to drop his stage name and replace it with his given name. It’s a wise choice, especially in light of his second album, For Me & Ladie, which he spent a couple years working on and released yesterday. The name change not only makes it easier to listen to the new album as its own distinct entity but underscores the personal nature of his material.
On For Me & Ladie Morimoto raps and coos about the queasy, confusing, and embarrassing feelings of youthful romance with a touching tenderness. He delivers his rhymes in gushing rushes and woozy bursts, charismatically careening between flows with a casualness that belies the tricky balance; on “FML Intro” Morimoto follows a backmasked sample of his own vocals by pulling off a rhyme that sounds like it’s being rapped in reverse. While he raps about the symptoms of love Morimoto’s performance evokes the actual feelings that inspired him.
For Me & Ladie also benefits from his idiosyncratic production. Morimoto stitches together pitched-down synths, clattering percussion, charmingly chintzy keys, bubbly pop melodies, and healthy doses of nervy and sultry saxophone (turns out the guy can handle the sax too). His tracks move at a lively pace and exude a cozy intimacy—some sound fit for a Sunday afternoon spent curled up in a pile of blankets. For Me & Ladie reminds me of a curious, disparate collection of outre pop and rap sounds that includes the work of local wunderkind Nnamdi Ogbonnaya and the hybrid-pop of Kero Kero Bonito. But these comparisons have faded as quickly as they’ve popped into my head while listening to For Me & Ladie—Morimoto’s songs move to their own beat.
The album has only one guest, another local rapper-producer with a unique sound and aura: MC Tree. His performance on “Torture Love” is touching and forceful, but a small part of its power comes in the unexpected pleasure of hearing his soulful, husky voice glide over Morimoto’s production. It reads like an unusual combination, but in the context of For Me & Ladie it makes plenty of sense.