- Mavstar, Magnús Ver Mavússon
(Equal Eyes Records, digital)
Burlington rapper Mavstar, aka Marek Lorenc, has built himself up from a kid bum-rushing open mics — often with an actual backpack in hand — to a respected local hip-hop icon. Part of that growth is thanks to his generous and honest personality. Mostly, though, it's just his sheer talent for writing rhymes. Magnús Ver Mavússon is his third album and his most polished, professional work to date.
The title is a tribute to the gigantic Icelandic athlete Magnús Ver Magnússon, perhaps best known for winning the World's Strongest Man competition ... four times. Like rappers, powerlifters train solo for a solo sport, and that theme of striving for perfection permeates this project.
Album opener "Equinox" is an incredibly balanced dish. It's got a classic '90s feel and guest features from two of Vermont's understated greats, Konflik and Humble. Both deliver dynamite verses that complement Mavstar's laid-back style. The track is a knockout first shot, but the album keeps evolving quickly from there.
The slyly titled "Arrogance" puts Mavstar's razor-sharp pen game in the spotlight, his signature brand of, as he puts it, "bars that were charged with the hardest catharsis." His deadpan delivery often disguises just how intricate his writing can be. "If it wasn't for the sport of warping the vocabulary," he continues, "I'd be bored and would resort to something ordinary."
Then there's the lead single, "Star Like Me," a casually catchy earworm. It also highlights that Magnús Ver Mavússon is a continually improving album with zero dead weight. For rap fans, that's great news. But for a reviewer with limited space, that's a problem. What truly defines an LP so packed and diverse?
First and foremost, Mavstar is grateful. He pays tribute to the local scene that raised him, featuring appearances from Aztext virtuoso Learic, Montpelier powerhouse Sed One, indie favorite Basic Brains and St. Albans hardcore legends Joint Manipulation. Further, he devotes most of his autobiographical track, "Where Does the Time Go?," not to himself but to the artists who helped him along the way.
Mavstar is also genuinely devoted to rap music. While the project is locally rooted, he's also paying homage to the influences he grew up on. Every song here is tightly polished. Indeed, my very favorite moment is the one-two punch of concept tracks "Artifact" and "Ghosts," perhaps the finest cuts on the menu. Both are carried solo.
Well, not completely solo, of course. The producers deserve a lot of credit, especially Face One, who carries the bulk of the LP. Equal Eyes Records founders ILLu and Rico James are both represented, alongside THEN WHAT and Flip Physics, all graced with finishing touches throughout by SkySplitterInk.
Where Mavstar's previous project with ILLu, Gangsta Trail Mix, felt like a breezy introduction to the artist he'd become, Magnús Ver Mavússon is a definitive statement. His style is dialed in, and he's improved his songwriting game. The result is one of the best Vermont hip-hop albums of the year.
Magnús Ver Mavússon is available at equaleyesrecords.bandcamp.com.