Sha Stimuli has made his rounds. He’s done the major label dance multiple times, and has been well-received on the mixtape circuit. His last full-length release, Unsung Volume 1: The Garden of Eden, was plagued by sub-par production, leaving questions as to whether he could put together a complete project that matched his considerable talent on the mic with equally-satisfying soundscapes. With The Calling, Sha hopes to lay those doubts to rest. 

“Volume” has a noticeably indignant Sha Stimuli airing out his frustrations, ranging from personal failings to righteous anger. He raps in rapid-fire delivery: “Do you know why you’re here? Can you even understand his plan? / You think it’s all about flows, songs, hoes, broads, you tryin’ to get fans? / There’s folks out here that can’t even stand or sleep on the street, living on land / Everyone’s talking about marketing brands / What about the heart of a man?”

“Conception” is another in a long list of tributes to Hip Hop, but Sha manages to make the joint interesting with slick lines like “My daddy wasn’t there, but Big Daddy Kane was.” Additionally, the song isn’t just an homage; Sha uses the lessons he learned from the greats to give context to his growth as an emcee and a person.

Though there may be one too many strolls down memory lane, Sha tackles interesting issues like Hip Hop’s skewed perception of “realness” on “The Realist” (“I wasn’t real, not real like ‘hard’ / I was real like my momma’s real job”) and Hip Hop hypocrisy on “Brenda’s Baby” (“Momma died prostituting, no one heard her cries / Pac was busy yelling ‘Hit ‘Em Up’ when she was turning five”). The piece de resistance is “Dream Girl,” which has some of the most thought-provoking lyrics uttered since Brother Ali’s “Rain Water.”

It’s been evident for years that Sha Stimuli has all the tools to be an outstanding emcee. He’s charismatic, more than capable as a lyricist and storyteller, and is able to tap into a wide range of emotions. That’s why, for the most part, The Calling is a success. But it feels like the album could have reached greater heights. The production—which rarely captivates—and subject matter is a big homogenous on some of the tracks, and while there isn’t a weak joint on the project, it feels like these things kept the project from truly being great. There are bars on the album that will literally make your jaw drop; at others, it feels as though some tracks were not quite so meticulously crafted as others.

Make no mistake, The Calling is a ringing endorsement of Sha Stimuli’s skills as an emcee. The problem is, he didn’t need any more of those. The next step is to become a truly great artist, which will require much more than execution on the mic. But this much is certain: if he ever puts it all together (hopefully with a small production squad that shares his vision), they’ll have to make another spot near the top of the Hip Hop totem pole.