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Epiphany - Click to view!The image is like the one from 8-Mile. The one you see in the trailer and early on in the movie, where Eminem's character dancing around in the bathroom and staring at himself in the mirror, trying to get his nerves under control before he hits the stage at a cramped dump of a club in the D.

A voice breaks in. "Hey, yo Mana. Mana, you ready? You're on in like five minutes. I can hear 'em calling you, man. Yo, man, get your stuff, get your DJ and go kill it."

And then Manafest, a superbly talented emcee recently signed to BEC Recordings, goes out and does just that. He kills it. (Translation: he gives a really good performance.) What you hear is "Rodeo," the first song from Chris Greenwood's BEC debut, and if you're not careful, it will make you wet your pants.

Okay, so that's a bit of an exaggeration. You won't need Depends if you're rocking it in your car or MP3 player. But it's a good song. Really, it is. The lyrics tread superficial waters (most of them are devoted to pointing out how good a rapper Mana is) but weightier issues are to come, and the effortless guitar riff that greets you between strong, staccato-flow verses are enough to tide you over.

The most affecting song in the collection is "My Life," a powerful cut that deals mainly with suicidal thinking, made poignant as Mana recounts how his own father hung himself in the family's basement when the emcee was just five years old. The majority of the song, however, is devoted to reaching out to kids who might be entertaining similar courses of action, pointing out that life in the real world doesn't play out like it does on T.V.—there are ups and downs and the experience is far from perfect.

Another issue that pervades the album is self-love and finding the courage to, as title of the excellent bookending track puts it, "Be Yourself." Cheesy as that sounds, it's difficult to find better advice to give to a teenager or twentysomething still searching for her identity.

"Manafesto" is another album highlight, spelling out in its chorus the meaning behind Mana's stage name ("expose to light and take aim" is the bulk of the oft-repeated chorus) and crafted over a thoroughly infectious Relic the Oddity beat. (Mana and Adam Messinger, a frequent collaborator, co-produce the song.)

Though you'll find traces of R&B on this album (see "Let it Go"), and more conventional, unadorned hip-hop in some spots ("What I Got to Say"), the more memorable tracks are successful experiments in the rap-metal that a lot of bands have unfortunately abandoned. "Skills," a collabo with Thousand Foot Krutch's Trevor McNevan about the commercialism of hip-hop, is a prime example, though "Changes," "Stressed Out" and the aforementioned final track are notable offerings in the same stylistic vein. Many critics cringe at the mention of the rap-rock boom of the late '90s, but this album is evidence of the legitimacy of the artform when it's done well.

Due to his skin tone, songs that bear some resemblance to Eminem tunes and perhaps the introduction to this review, Manafest will no doubt draw comparisons to the man otherwise known as Marshall Mathers. But he's no clone. Epiphany has a couple of soft spots, but some extremely bright ones as well, and if nothing else is a very strong debut from a very talented mic rocker.

Attaboy, Speedy. You killed it.
- Ben Forrest
February 2005
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