In hip-hop’s current diffuse landscape, the MC/producer duo has become less and less common, but Magna Carda makes a strong case for the genre to return to its roots. Down in Austin, Texas, rapper Megz Kelli and producer Dougie Do have been working for almost a decade, not-so-quietly building a discography that could go toe-to-toe with anyone in the game right now.
The duo has always ridden the line between hip-hop and jazz—other publications have been quick to draw parallels to The Roots—but the reality is that Magna Carda exists in their own realm, embracing a variety of sounds over the course of their history. 2016’s Cirqulation embraces the live instrumentation most fully, while Somewhere Between, released in 2017, uses more synths and electronic drums. Last year’s EP, Ladee is a blend of both, a smooth collection of love songs that seem at once timeless and fresh.
Dougie Do deserves credit for steering the sound effortlessly between genres, but Megz Kelli’s impeccable delivery ties it all together, working just as easily over a trap instrumental as she does on a laid back neo-soul groove, demonstrating once again that rap is quickly outgrowing its boys-club attitudes from the early aughts.
“The Root” is a prime example of Magna Carda’s embrace of live instrumentation, as well as a testament to Megz Kelli’s ability to go bar-for-bar with anybody. The track begins with a simple bass walk-down and Megz’ razor-sharp delivery, growing from those roots into a head-nodding anthem that reaches up towards the sky.
“Angels” represents the duo’s softer side, building with a similar complexity, from a single wistful keys line into a double-time meditation on what it means to be an artist alive here on earth, interspersed with a mournful but catchy hook.
Magna Carda is playing on March 26th alongside Portland vets Myke Bogan and Blossom at Treefort Music Fest, part of a lineup that’s a glimpse of what the future of hip-hop has in store.