When upcoming New York MC Ja’king the Divine released his album Delusions of Grandeur in 2021, it was clear he was destined for greatness. Between his crafty wordplay, potent storytelling, and ability to glue together cohesive and compelling musical stories, it seemed like a matter of time until we saw this prominent MC take over the entire hip-hop world by storm.
This July, the Div7ne founder released his newest studio album, BLACK SUN TZU. Between the bar set by Ja’King’s previous work and the beautiful album cover, which pays homage to the legendary MF DOOM’s 1999 classic Operation Doomsday, everything going into this record further raises our expectations of listeners so when it comes to delivering on these hopes, Ja’King goes above and beyond packaging more than fans could ever ask for into this album.
Paying more respect to the late MF DOOM, the album’s intro track “Nile of Emotion (Gift of Gab)” begins with a conglomerate of cartoon clips, and they all come together quite cohesively, building tension and setting up for something much greater. Even the ominous flute-based instrumental on this song feels like we are within the climax of a classic cartoon episode, and this does wonder when it comes to tying together the entire track as one cohesive musical experience. While Ja’King’s vocals are a little too washed away by the instrumental, his performance brings this entire track together with a verse that excretes out the tension and torment he is facing. Ja’King the Divine is such a well-articulated writer, and the way he maps out what’s to come in this project is a quality that only becomes further admired as we advance through the lp, especially on the song “The Blood, The Sweat & the Steel.” This song’s intense yet disciplined feel flows in so well after what the intro track sets up both topically and musically. Ja’King’s powerful delivery is much more in our faces here, and how his vocals clash against the scaly instrumental feels like the musical equivariant of steel being forged into a powerful weapon.
Teaming Ja’King up with fellow Div7!e member K.J., “ATTACK BY STRATAGEM,” is a firey track that demands your attention through the powerful and conscious commentary from both Ja’King and K.J. On top of this, the tracks pulsing instrumental encapsulates you in this moment. After more suspenseful cartoon skits, we are thrown into one of the most important moments on the record, “Year 2040, The Year of the Monkey.” From the distorted instrumental to Ja’King’s bars which predict what our society will look like in 18 years, this song focuses on the downward paths our world is sliding down. From brewing global conflicts to our overreliance on technology, Ja’King’s vision of the future shows us the horrifying reality of what our world may turn into.
Showing off one of the most impressive rhyme schemes on the project “Master Sun, A Trip Into the Inevitable” is an intense lyrical exercise that defines what makes Ja’King so special as an MC. From his word choice to the grimly potent storytelling, Ja’King’s bars flow after one another like waves. Holding onto our hearts, Ja’King uses this momentum for the smooth-sounding “Tibet Rainforest.” From the lyrical focus on manifesting his greatness, it feels like we Ja’King is letting us watch him sharpen his lyrical sword as he trains to find even more ways to wow us. While the cartoon clips are used to flesh out the universe of the project and it’s core values, stapling on a nearly three-minute-long skit on this track breaks the pace of the record as it feels overly drawn out. Fortunately, alongside Javi Darko, “CLASSIFICATIONS of TERRAIN” is another one of the record’s standout moments with its ominous instrumental and collaborative chemistry between these two wordsmiths. The way the two play off each other’s verses works masterfully here, and with the amount of heart they pour into these conscious words, the young MCs show their wise beyond their years.
With its soul-shaking chord pattern and dream-like sonic coating, “THE WAY” is one of the best cuts on the record musically and between K.J. and Ja’Kings lyrical spar, this track embodies everything that makes a stellar underground hip hop track in this day and age. Moving through the album’s second half, the stakes continue to rise on “Dragons of Ashida, Executioners Charm.” From the flute-infused instrumental to Ja’King’s bars which work like lyrical explosions due to the “trauma and will” he embeds in them, this song raises the bar for the closing portion of this album, and this only continues to rise on “Indigenous Windz.” Using cartoon skits perfectly, we are welcomed to this moment masterfully, and as Ja’King raps over this minimally produced woodwind-driven beat, we are faced with his most vulnerable performance on the album. From his family and fears to the analysis of his spirit, this moment works like a character song from Ja’King, where we truly enter the mind of the warrior who’s giving us all of this knowledge.
Teaming up with Javi Darko again, the two continue to highlight their chemistry and forward-thinkingness on “STRANDED IN a SHRINE.” While this track is solid, it gives us enough while also letting us rest before entering into the eight-minute storm that is “To Be Disciplined, Vague, & Mysterious.” Over a multi-faceted instrumental which evolves as the track goes on, Ja’King gives a career-defining performance as he shows his ability to piece together a musical masterwork filled with heart, lyrical depth, and top-tier musicality. While the first half of this song gives us Ja’King at his peak, attaching another four minutes of skits may be long, but what is said in these minutes is both potent and strengthens to the entire track’s narrative.
On the album’s closing leg, “Blade of Damascus” is another intense reflection from Ja’King, where he talks about the world’s crumbling state and his anxieties. This is another track that works exceptionally well due to Ja’Kings vulnerability and wisdom, and this sets up the powerful outro “Gulf of Jili, A Sea of Blood.” masterfully. Over a guitar-driven instrumental loop, Ja’King raps over the best-sounding cut on the record as he bleeds his heart out in this anthem, which holds nothing back. Building this songs narrative through the question of how Ja’King’s Grandma worries about how her family will be when she transcends from this Earth, Ja’King ponders on this question himself, and while he can’t tell the future, he can do his best to steer through whatever comes his way with the strength of a true warrior.
Between the lyrical sharpness and musical worldbuilding on BLACK SUN TZU, Ja’King The Divine solidifies his reputation as not just a great wordsmith but as a great artist as a whole. From start to finish, you can feel how carefully crafted this body of work is, and its ability to follow one narrative through cohesive sonic layering makes this record a fully fleshed-out musical experience that any hip-hop fan would love. As Ja’King is still early into his career, I would expect his future creative endeavors to only wramp up from here, but no matter how far he goes, this album will always be one of the very best offerings hip hop’s underground has in the year 2022.