Critic’s Corner: Manifest – Open Bars Mixtape

Back in February, Virginian MC Manifest dropped his 3rd mixtape entitled Open Bars. The title is less an allusion to alcohol but rather more towards his lyrical content and at 20 tracks deep it’s clear that Mani has a lot to say. His last release was about two years ago but he’s stayed active performing, touring, interviewing, and dropping singles here and there, often with his partner in rhyme Lyricks. Whenever an artist drops a mixtape of this length, it’s often a question of whether we are getting the quality to match the quantity. If you want to find out if Open Bars is worth it, read on!

It’s Over Now – Opening with a KRS-One interview sample, Manifest really sets the tone for the rest of the mixtape. He basically sets up the listener to pay close attention to the lyrics because that’s the heart and soul of every track. He re-iterates this concept with his rap that follows afterwards. A solid introduction.

Suave ft JL, C-Note & Lyricks – Featuring several people from the SuperNoVa crew, Mani jumps in with the first proper song of the mixtape. I’m loving the beat selection and each respective MC spits nicely on the mic. Just as the title suggests, the song has a smooth swaggar to it. So far so good!

My Way – Backed by a Sam Ock production, Mani & Lyricks make use of the smooth jazzy beat to it’s fullest. In my opinion Lyricks stole the show here, his flow was so dynamic that it’s bananas. That’s not to say M didn’t deliver! He certainly wasn’t “ethered”, just slightly edged. I consider this to be one of my favorite tracks overall on the tape.

Cheers Remix ft DJ Zo – Whenever someone has Zo on the track you know to expect some sick cuts. This is definitely no different. Manifest returns to that unadulterated boom bap hip-hop style. Only thing about the track I wasn’t crazy was the hook. Without the scratching it would have been way too dull but otherwise its another solid song.

Me 4 Me – This song actually took a few listens to grow on me. I’m not used to hearing Mani sing but he does so at a few points on this track. I ended up enjoying this song more and more, it’s just one of those sleeper tracks. He takes the opportunity to talk to a girl, wondering if she can handle everything about his lifestyle. The production has a unique flavor with a nice Asian vocal sample in the hook. It’s a weird collection of parts but it call comes together as a nice track.

Nickel & Dime – Mani flexes his double-time muscle in full effect here, proving he hasn’t lost a step at all. In fact he’s refined his style a lot and it’s more crisp than ever. He chose a great beat to use and overall this a track I think any hip-hop head can appreciate. It does end a bit abruptly though.

Popular ft Decipher – X-Facta provided a GREAT instrumental for Mani to use. That’s probably why Manifest decided to enlist the help of Decipher to feature. The three of them make a great team and really deliver a strong track. The musical chemistry is so fluid here. This is another favorite of mine, I think you’ll enjoy it too.

Sunny 808’s ft Lyricks & DJ Zo – Serving as an ode to the beautiful state of Hawaii (where The Beautiful Cycle team had the opportunity to perform at last year), the song has an instrumental to match courtesy of Sam Ock. They take the time to reflect on their blessings and their trip as a whole. It would be interesting to hear a mash up of this song and the Blue Scholar’s “Hi-808“. The track closes with Zo’s incredible cuts.

Don’t Sleep – Clocking in at only a minute, there’s not a whole lot of time for an MC to say what’s on his mind. So if you’re Manifest what do you do? Spit double time of course. He continues to impress while getting the message across, don’t overlook his talent.

Speechless – Sam Ock provides another banger that sorta reminds me of Mike Shinoda’s work in The Rising Tied. The chorus effect is an especially nice touch. Manifest spits with tenacity here and delivers a convincing performance. This song is the longest one on the album at well over 4 and a half minutes but its not a second too long.

Numb – This is a chill track where he takes the opportunity to reminisce on the old days. It’s certainly an enjoyable track but in a mixtape full of 20 tracks it easily gets lost in the mix. Decent but a bit forgettable.

Joy Ride – Like the track that precedes it, the strongest part of this song are the lyrics as the rest kind of gets lost in the mix. He presents a great narrative about this long ride we call life. There are just so many strong songs on the mixtape that its hard to remember them all. I often forget about this one despite it still being a decent track.

Last Breathe ft Sam Ock – This is likely the most sobering and heavy song on the mixtape. Manifest thinks back on a fallen friend and dedicates this track to him. He processes his emotions through rhyme and details his regrets in not being able to do more with their shortened friendship. Sam sings the hook though he doesn’t quite emote as much as I think is required by the song.

Epiphany ft Sam Ock – Manifest really seems to enjoy talking in the intros of his songs and at times it comes off way too rehearsed. Mr. Ock once again provides the instrumentation though I dont think it’s his strongest as it seems too derivative of some of his other work. That being said, Sam and Manifest have proven to be a great team and this still holds true since the rest of the elements of this track are on point. This is a good though not amazing song.

Cube Runners ft JL & Lyricks – Backing off the smooth beats again Mani, JL, and Lyrics go in hard on this track that can only be described as raw. Every MC really delivered here, each with their own style that makes the track dynamic. JL proves he can hold his own against his more seasoned track mates. I think the track could have used some more scratches but other than that this one is a must listen.

Level 9 – I’m loving the beat choice here. Our MC uses this track to show he’s always elevating (Do people still say that?) and that he’s never letting off his grind. This is one of the songs I liked to blast, it just has a great sound to it. “Mani go hard!”

What You Like ft Ellie, Dren & Smaals – I have slightly mixed feelings about this song. On one hand I can appreciate the throwback sound and tribute to the 90’s style but I actually get bored of it after a while. The song just doesn’t hold my attention too long despite all the features and switch up in sound. This one may have been better if they kept it to two verses with a bridge instead of 3 verses and the same hook afterwards every time.

I Pray Remix ft Lyricks – This one is actually a remix of a track the two of them did a number of years ago. They spit over a Kanye beat and overall the track holds up well after all these years though I’m not entirely sure that it was necessary to include on the mixtape. The only added value I can guess is that it introduces his newer listeners to one of his better old tracks.

The Balance – You know he had to do it. The song is a dedication to the fans who, let’s face it, are a huge driving force in nearly any musicians career. The best thing about this song is that it conveys gratefullness without being sappy or corny. That’s something I’m sure any fan can appreciate.

Ask Myself ft Lyricks & Sam Ock – Mr. Ly to the Ricks and S. Ock make yet another appearance but they all make such a strong team that I can’t really complain. I think this will become a favorite of young Christians all over (especially in Korean-American circles), similar to “Gift” and Sam’s work with AMP. It’s a definitely a nice track though and the three artists spit some truth. I just wish Sam would put some edge in his voice once in a while and grit it up.

Conclusion:
The biggest thing I take away from his album is the fact that Manifest has grown so much as an artist. He’s always had an on point flow, and excelled with the double-time rhymes but now he’s taken it several steps further, switching up his delivery, creating more dynamic songs and making some very smart beat selections. This is definitely not the same Manifest from the middle half of the 2000’s decade. And to answer the question posed earlier, there is certainly a healthy dose of quality to match the quantity in this mixtape release. The only down side is that otherwise solid songs get lost in the shuffle with all the great ones. Overall I thought the first half was stronger than the second but really there isn’t a whole lot to complain about here. If Manifest continues to experiment with his delivery and sound, and tries roping in some new supporting acts besides the usual suspects, we could see a perfect release in the near future. But as is, Open Bars is certainly recommended for all you hip-hop heads.

Must Listen: Suave, My Way, Nickel & Dime, Popular, Speechless, Cube Runners, Level 9, Ask Myself

a-Tunes Score: 9/10

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