Sha Stimuli
My Soul to Keep
(ChamberMusik/E1)

Beats: L
Lyrics: XL
Originality: L

Things haven’t been easy for Sha Stimuli. Though he signed to Virgin Records in 2005, the Brooklyn MC’s freshman album, Thee Emotion Picture, never saw the light of day. Now, after becoming a free agent in 2008, he finally presents a proper debut with My Soul to Keep.

After a themed intro, the jazzy horns of “Hang On” set the tone as Stimuli recounts his life’s ups and downs. The hood dedication “Move Back,” produced by Just Blaze, is another standout, as Sha raps, “Got the whole hood behind me, so it looks like I rep a set/If I make it, they make it, so I never rest,” before giving way to a spirited verse from Freeway. Much of the album revolves around Sha’s personal demons: the role-playing “I Wish I Was You” displays his fear of commitment, and “Bucket List” is a lyrical laundry list of things the rapper hopes to accomplish before dying.

Sha covers much ground topically, but musically the album isn’t as diverse. Tracks like the J. Cardim–produced “Good Day,” “What’s Wrong With That? (Wake Up the World)” and “Blasphemy” are good but get lost sonically in the disc’s dense track list. Still, through it all, Sha Stimuli’s soulful debut is a keeper. —Konate Primus