There’s a steep hill just off the M5 motorway southwest of Birmingham and I’m imagining The Praying Mantis sitting up there in antediluvian body armor drinking green tea and reading scripture as he waits for creatures from the underworld to engage him in a battle for the lost spirits of Mercia.
Like the title of his recent E.P. The Praying Mantis is ‘The Unorthodox Christian’. Listening to his lyrics is like being sucked into an epic convergence of literary and filmic genres. There’s media moguls, angels, politicians, dragons, Moses, postcode gangsters, ninjas and the god Apollo, but there’s also eschatology, autobiography, folklore, esotericism and gothic horror.
His style, forged in the fiery interactions of multi-cultural North Birmingham street life, has a gruff, no-nonsense backbone. Still, there’s lyrical back flips as well as bear grips. His delivery is striking enough that any savvy hip-hop beat producer could find a memorable hook were they to mine his verses.
What makes Mantis an elevator is his feisty battle for personal integration. As he dedicates time to reach out to embittered young people who’ve been neglected or written off, he wants to prove that there’s a new breed of fathers, brothers and mentors whose word IS their bond and who WILL listen to you, spar with you, care for you. His lyrics speak of grace, justice, courage, creativity and the desire for these things to be tattooed onto his life. Mantis explains, “I am very passionate about how I relate to the beat, the mind, the street and Christ, which you’ll find deeply embedded in the rhyme schemes and themes I write about.”
Mantis released his debut solo E.P. ‘Space/Time Continuum’ in 2005 and the ‘The Rusty Halo Effect’ album in 2009 and he continues to record with lyrical partner Quartz Crystallus. Here’s two of their many collaborations [Mantis’ verses are near the end of these tracks]:
I asked Mantis if he were introducing someone to hip-hop music which album would he get them to listen to? “I can’t think of any one album that embodies the whole spectrum of hip-hop, so I would start with KRS-One’s ‘Return of the Boom Bap’ followed by Shai Linne’s ‘Lyrical Theology‘”!
The Praying Mantis: adventurer, protector, visionary, servant, street scholar. I’m privileged to be able to call this emcee a close friend.
Download his ‘The Unorthodox Christian’ EP here for FREE: theprayingmantis.bandcamp.com.