Review Lou Piensa & Mental Abstrato – Still In Transit


Spring has sprung and there’s a new Mental Abstrato album in the air – reasons to be cheerful, part 3. In fact, it’s not actually a Mental Abstrato album as such, rather a partnership between those “good children of Hip Hop” from São Paulo and Lou Piensa. He’s a French-born rapper from Canada and a member of Nomadic Massive, who raps and rhymes in English, French, Spanish and (I think) Portuguese. But it’s Mental Abstrato who supply the trademark sounds we last heard on the wonderful Uzoma back in 2019: the hand drums, the vibes, the breezy jazz guitar, the lone Tutu-era trumpet, the crisp horns; a bit of scratching, a bit of sampling and the beats, the beats. They still sound the nearest thing to A Tribe Called Quest on a good day.

The friendship and the working relationship was cemented during a trip to Cuba, also in 2019. After the tour, they agreed to work on a record together. Replete with guest artists from Brazil, Canada and Cuba, musically the trip to the island clearly rubbed off on the visitors (especially on “Be” and the title track). With the rapper up front in the mix, the Hip Hop element is bound to be primary, but the Afro-Latin/Afro-Brazilian jazz is never far behind.

The rhymes are never an excuse for macho posturing. Lou Piensa uses his rich baritone to tell stories – about his background and his musical impetus (on “Mountain Top” and “Bom Balanço”, for example) or “a kid [he] used to know” (on “Free Free”) – or channel his righteous anger into the kind of oblique literate swipes in which Gil Scott-Heron specialised (on the atmospheric “Casi Perdimos”, say), or simply to revel in the onomatopoeic sounds of language (on the pyrotechnic title track, or in such lines as “private pockets packed like public transit run down/Public funds robbed by pundits sun-up to sun-down”). He bares his soul with moving sincerity on “Volta Pra Você” (“… not an excuse, but I was running from myself/running from the fact that I was running from everything else…”) and one senses a human being who, like GSH, thinks deeply enough about things to recognise and acknowledge his flaws, perhaps for the benefit of others.

There aren’t too many rappers out there who can switch so seamlessly from one language to another and then another, all in the space of one number. Lou Piensa is truly “a hip hop kid with a global stance.” As for the band, they’re keeping alive “the essence of Hip-Hop Urban Jazz”. As for the album, mastered as it was in New York by Bob Power (who has worked with A Tribe Called Quest, De la Soul and Erykah Badu, to name but three luminaries), each successive listening provides further rich pickings.

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