Moshpit Messiah

[Self-released; Oct. 30]

JooseLord Magnus remembers the exact date when he began taking his rap career seriously. It was a Sunday, a few months before the election: February 21, 2016.

“People tried to convince me to be a rapper my whole life, and I denied it and tried to do other things,” he says over the phone one Monday afternoon in mid-October. “That day my life changed. It’s the day I found out who I really was.”

Born in New York’s Harlem neighborhood, Raheem Williams, who performs as JooseLord Magnus, moved to Durham the summer before he started sixth grade. Although he’s proud to represent the Bull City, he’s managed to hold onto his New York-ness—the grit, the aggression, the language, the fashion, and the general cool aesthetic that makes up Harlem. “I am the epitome of a New York ni**a and a Durham ni**a; I say ‘tawk’ and ‘durm’ in the same sentence,” JooseLord says, reassuring me.

Released in 2018, his debut album, S.K.U.L.L, was a project created for the core fanbase who consistently attended his shows and craved the high-energy punk-rap he’d already come to be known for. Two years later, he’s dropping his next album, Moshpit Messiah, on October 30.

“With this project, I wanted to make the kind of music that makes me happy—music that I myself was not only going to enjoy performing, but also writing,” JooseLord says. “When I recorded S.K.U.L.L, it was like a look at all the different things I could do. It was a creative space for me to display my talents, and you know, I had something to prove … With this project, I didn’t wanna prove anything to anyone.”

It seems, though, that JooseLord hasn’t needed to prove himself much since he started performing. His talent, creative abilities, and star qualities all speak for themselves. In 2017, he was named Best New Artist at the Carolina Music Awards—then Best Male Hip-Hop Artist the following year. Most recently, he was nominated for Artist of the Year in WRAL’s Voters’ Choice Awards—the only hip-hop artist in a category with five finalists.

Produced entirely by Charlotte native Chill Woods, MoshPit Messiah intentionally strays from the traditional elements of hip-hop, including the genre’s emphasis on lyricism and boom-bap beats. Instead, JooseLord prioritizes his emotions. The result is an outrage-provoking 19-track album full of trap-esque beats. JooseLord hopes this perfectly curated collection of street and protest anthems will spark the most energetic mosh pits hip-hop has ever seen—hence the album’s title, which was inspired by a moniker given to JooseLord by a fan.

“The arrival of the mosh pit as a staple at hip-hop shows is a development that has long been foreshadowed,” wrote journalist Hershal Pandya in a DJBooth article that traces the evolution of the hip-hop mosh pit. “Although mosh pits have their roots in the punk/hardcore scenes of the early ’80s, they were initially introduced to hip-hop audiences through the Beastie Boys … and unlikely crossover tours, like the double bill featuring Public Enemy and Anthrax.”

It was the Queens rap group Onyx, however, that popularized the hip-hop mosh pit, with their 1993 chart-topping hit “Slam.” Today, boundary-pushing contemporary artists—like Lil Uzi Vert, Travis Scott, and Florida native Ski Mask the Slump God, to name a few—are all merging punk sensibilities with hip-hop, including through an embrace of the mosh pit.

What separates JooseLord from many of his mainstream contemporaries, though, is that his rage and anger are directly inspired by his commitment to speaking out about the social injustices Black communities face in America. At 13, he was harassed by the police; the situation ended with the police pulling a gun on JooseLord and his childhood friend. He also witnessed the injustices of policies like Stop and Frisk, watching police approach his uncle and other Black men in Harlem under the guise of the policy. This mistrust of law enforcement is no secret to JooseLord fans: His disdain for cops is embedded in his music on both the micro and macro levels.

“It’s important that I share these specific feelings about the police in my music because of how my music is,” JooseLord says. “My music is crazy, and I’m wylin out and I’m screaming. When I first saw the movie Straight Outta Compton, I remember looking at that movie and thinking, like, if I ever make music, that’s what I want to do.”

In June of 2020, Rolling Stone revisited the legacy of “Fuck tha Police,” a 32-year-old “perfect protest song” that experienced a boost in streaming as the nation turned toward a “Defund the Police” movement. The N.W.A anthem arrived in a pre-social media era, when the world witnessed a group of police officers get away with viciously attacking an unarmed Black man.

Those three simple words have maintained their relevance in communities of color. Most recently, the song’s legacy was almost challenged when it came out that Ice Cube, N.W.A.’s leading man, had collaborated with the Trump Administration on its “Platinum Plan.” Although the Compton-gangsta-rapper-turned-movie-star was heavily criticized on social media, JooseLord has a different interpretation of Ice Cube’s intentions.

“Who says pro-Black has to be Democrat?” JooseLord says. “In his eyes, neither [party] is doing anything. Neither one of them care about us. We need to create our own. There needs to be more consciousness. People gravitate towards Democrats because they’re willing to do the bare minimum for us. And that is not what [Ice Cube] wants. And that’s not what I want. I think that we deserve more, and I think that we deserve better.”

On Moshpit Messiah, JooseLord does exactly what he set out to do. Track 13, appropriately titled “1312,” is a modern version of “Fuck tha Police.” Influenced by the range of emotions he felt while protesting the murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the song is rich with sonic layers, with JooseLord using his voice as an instrument.

“In the midst of the protesting, I wrote ‘1312,’” he says. “I was literally like, I’ve got to get this feeling out. This seems like this is the only thing that they’re going to respond to.”

The frequent changes in his tone on the song allow listeners to get a glimpse of the tumultuous emotional impact of protesting. Black joy is an important component of protesting, and thanks to the track’s Chill Woods-produced beat, there are cathartic pockets where listeners can catch a vibe. The chorus, too, runs counter to assumed narratives about protester-led riots.

Despite historical precedent and overwhelming evidence to the contrary, right-wing media outlets, the current administration, and local law enforcement (we can give a side-eye here to the Raleigh Police Department) have continued to portray protesters as violent and aggressive. “1312” offers another view of the agitators, as JooseLord raps, “Last night I was in a raid/took a rubber bullet to the face/You gon’ start a riot if you spray.”

In Black America’s long history of protest music, regardless of genre, artists have used lyrics as a space for documenting their lived realities. One of the most impressive lines of “1312” is the ending, where, in a mellow, matter-of-fact voice, JooseLord says, “I just went to jail/My momma proud as shit.” Like the American politician and civil rights leader John Lewis, JooseLord is not “afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

“It seems like we gotta be out in the streets,” JooseLord says when asked about “1312”’s power as a modern-day protest song. “[They] tell all these lies and [they] separate people, but when you out there at the protest, there’s so many different colors; there’s so many different types of people standing for one thing. And that’s the power of [the song]”.

It’s safe to say that JooseLord is the voice that mainstream hip-hop is missing. The first few months of 2020 were filled with national uprisings sparked mainly by police brutality and racial injustice. However, mainstream hip-hop has largely dropped the ball. Chicago rapper and activist Noname made headlines when she called out prominent artists for their silence during the uprisings.

In response, J. Cole, released a track that addressed police brutality and systemic racism—though he also spent half the song dissing Noname. Meanwhile, trap rapper Lil Baby—another artist who has received national attention and clout for speaking up about police brutality—had a change of heart, announcing that he was “good on” speaking up about politics.

But JooseLord’s politics are not just a marketing tool. From the start of his career, he’s had an unapologetic nature. That “IDGAF I’m going to say what needs to be said” attitude is apparent on track 14, “Karen,” which was inspired by stories of white women using their whiteness and sense of entitlement to weaponize the police against Black folks. The structure of the song itself, with its satire and aggression, is quite creative as it makes a mockery of the collective “Karen” incidents.

In addition to narratives about law enforcement and the dangers of white womanhood, Moshpit Messiah also includes a perfect breakup song (“Letter to My Exs”) and an abrasive diss record that can be applied to anyone you may not be feeling (“Dink”). Regardless of what he’s rapping about, the energy JooseLord brings to this album evokes the hunger and grit that street and drill rappers bring to the table. The difference is that he’s representing the South, seamlessly merging trap, punk, metal, and scream in exactly the way that a fan once described: as the messiah of hip-hop mosh pits.  

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