Maturation Mr. Wagner

Thank God I don’t look like what I’ve been through… you feel me?

This impressively personal and intensely relatable album gallops out of the gate with the urgency of Mr. Wagner’s smooth triplet flow. It is a compellingly thoughtful collection of mature hip hop songs, by turns angry, empowering, confused and inspiring. It deals with the fundamentals of being human – Wagner raps about being alone and struggling to know what’s right and best. It is a window on to Wagner’s life negotiating obstacles, failing, striving, and repeatedly walking up the project steps to build a better one. Through learned hope and hard-won confidence, Wagner is living my life at full energy.

In the emotionally raw “Family Dynamics”, Wagner wrestles with the pain of being shunned by his mother on account of her differences with his father. In “The System”, he calls out inherent racism in public education and incarceration programmes in the US, and rails against commercial hip hop helping to sustain a system that just doesn’t play fair. He nonetheless encourages the next generation to engage in schooling, because after school saved me, day school raised me, and we hear a roll-call of teachers whose influence on Wagner’s life was profound.

The Maturation of Mr. Wagner is an album of hope and solidarity that ultimately looks to dark nights turning into brighter days… in which our protagonist would rather die with a legacy than rich in the moment. This is socially conscious hip hop that relies not on celebrating alcohol, money or drugs to draw in listeners, and not a profane word is uttered throughout. These are intelligent, compassionate and energetic songs with a potent narrative and a torrent of tasty beats to boot. Our work as citizens and artists is urgent; after all, what are we going to tell our kids?

Wagner doesn’t want our pity, he seeks respect, and he’s earned mine with this album, but I’m sure I missed a lot on here too. As a white rock and theatre musician from the southeast of England, I recognize my limits in appraising the hip hop artistry of an African American from northern New Jersey. But as a male, a parent, a human alive today in the United States – we in the Trump era – I hear enough to know that, for Wagner:

this is my pain, this is my truth… this is the beauty, this is the struggle, this is my grind…  this is my hustle… this is my time, this is my soul, this is my mind.

This music is direct, unfiltered and unabashedly honest.

For most of us on this planet, life is both a gift and a perpetual struggle. The final song, “Underutilized”, finishes mid-groove, reminding us that if we’re listening to this, our life ain’t over. So get to it, build or destroy – it’s your choice what you make of it.




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