Shadowyze, a rapper of Cherokee, Creek and European descent, made the plight of the Chiapas Indians the subject of his first album, "Murder In Our Backyard," based on firsthand experience in Mexico and Central America. Since its release two years ago, Shadowyze has opened for major rap acts like Digital Underground, 3rd Base, and Salt'n' Pepa. "Spirit Warrior," his latest release, is his next step towards cultivating an identity as a speaker of Native American truths. The move is largely successful. Scathing and political, Shadowyze's sharply realized and inventive lyrics thrash the United States government that has practiced a policy of destruction of the Native American.
Unfortunately, his political thinking is more advanced than his musical skills. Nearly every track on "Spirit Warrior" is so thoroughly stuffed with verse, there's little room left over for the talent he does have to shine through. Dense verse isn't inherently a weakness--Busta Rhymes has practically made it his trademark--but Shadowyze lacks creative use of cadence and inflection to keep his rhymes interesting.
There are some standout tracks that hint at Shadowyze's potential as an artist and producer. The stronger ones include the more accomplished mic skills of guest MC Big Flav, a rapper from the Shinnecock Indian reservation on Long Island. MC Big Flav's voice injects each track that he appears on with a refreshing flow.
"Code Talkers" features Big Flav rhyming over syncopated, open beats that demand a steady head-nod. Shadowyze does himself a favor and takes his time rhyming through "My Rez to Your Rez" and the pace lets him demonstrate a little more vocal style--though Big Flav locks down the chorus and guarantees a steady hook.
The rest of the tracks are simply adequate, with the exception of "Pedigree," which is noteworthy for its awfulness. Shadowyze's attempt at singing is an atonal, whiney knockoff of the vocal style of Brad Nowell, former frontman for Sublime, and only serves to highlight Shadowyze's limitations as a singer.
Given the failure of the United States' Native American policy, and the place hip-hop has taken as the music of protest, "Spirit Warrior" is more inevitable than inspired. I look forward to seeing Shadowyze get out under the crushing weight of his social commentary and make good on the glimpses of true talent he shows here.