After hitting the world with years of well-received mixtapes, New York’s Sha Stimuli [click to read] is finally lacing the public with a full-length album. It seems it was worth the wait, as Stimuli’s latest release provides listeners an intimate look into the emcee’s personal life. Packed with food for thought, solid production, and social commentary that many will be able to relate to, My Soul To Keep is an album not to be overlooked.

As DJ Victorious’ intro begins the album, the thought-provoking sound bytes of quotes from Mohinder from the hit show Heroes and lines from the movie Shooter let the listener know that they are in for some dramatic subject matter. Sha follows up the introduction strong with the reflective “Hang On.” The Astronomical Kid begins the song, lyrically acting as a younger version of Sha and talking about Sha’s life as a child. Slowly, one hears Stimuli’s come in over The Kid’s as the story of his life progresses further into the present day. The lyrical tactic proves very effective, especially paired with the mellow production of Sha’s real-life older brother, Lord Digga (formerly of Masta Ace‘s Inc. [click to read]). Sha shows off with a little word play with lines like, “see this path I’m on, it’s like a track I’m on / I’m runnin’ in a marathon, and tryin to pay my Sprint bill.” He also proves that he can switch up his flow and make it unique when he spits, “Y’all listen backwards so I talk like Yoda, so hot album is, many records Sha sold, punch lines deep shit, metaphors, wild flows.”

Stimuli follows up the standout “Hang On” with a criticism of the music industry called “My Soul,” which places an emphasis on the point that his music comes from his soul, and isn’t some superficial garbage he made with only dollar signs on his brain. He explains, “If you look at them and look at me, my shit is hi-def, for me to like their shit I’d have to be high and deaf.” This is followed by the second standout of My Soul To Keep, “Blasphemy.” During a conversation with God, Sha blatantly shows his spirituality for the first time on his album, and touches on subjects ranging from RICO Laws to the unjustified glamorization of street life. It is clear that Sha is seeking answers to some of life’s biggest struggles, and is turning to his faith to find them. As the album progresses, it becomes apparent that spirituality and faith are strong themes in Stimuli’s life and work, as songs such as the hidden track “Change” and “I Believe” featuring Lydia Caesar help to explain Stimuli’s stance on religion.

With industry matters, politics, and religion out of the way, the emcee formerly signed to Virgin Records confronts love with “I Wish I Was You,” produced by, and featuring Bellringer on the hook. Far from a tale of happily-ever-after, Sha speaks about a one-sided relationship where the woman is in love with a man who just doesn’t feel the same way about her. Stimuli has a change of heart as the album progresses in the form of “My Girl,” featuring Khaliq and produced by M-Phazes, which is an ode to a serious and steady relationship that is providing happiness to his life. However, the listener is reminded that messing with the ladies isn’t always so serious, as evidenced by the comedic “The Smelly Cat Song.” The lyrical criticism of a female’s personal hygiene (or lack thereof) may not appeal to many of Stimuli’s female audience, but lines such as “It smelled like something from the bottom of the sea, with perfume sprayed on it, sprinkled with cheddar cheese, if she took a shower, how could she miss that? / And if she did wash it, why’d the smell come back?” will have men either in laughter or shuddering in disgust while they recall their own bad experiences. Although the track seems out of place on My Soul To Keep (which Sha admits to in the liner notes when he states, “I don’t know if it even fits on this album”), it is a welcome opportunity to get some laughs amidst a sea of topics that will surely be bringing up some difficult memories and thoughts in the listener’s mind.

A former Roc-A-Fella Records intern, Stimuli’s narrative abilities go beyond pungent punani on tracks such as the WMS Sultan-produced “Do It For the Doe,” where he role-plays his raps masquerading as a nine-to-five worker, someone who patronizes a certain pole dancer, and your average hustler on the streets, all of whom are just in their respective career paths for the love of the money and nothing else. He continues the storytelling on “Good Day,” one of two tracks produced by J. Cardim [click to read]. As Cardim flips the same sample that was used on Nas’ “Small World” into a new form, Sha tells the story of a wheelchair-bound ex-coworker in order to get the message across that people should count their blessings and realize that things could always be worse.

As a one-time “Unsigned Hype” in The Source, Sha Stimuli uses My Soul To Keep to remind listeners that he is still a force to be reckoned with in the New York scene and beyond, with or without a Virgin deal. His trademark repetition of his bars throughout his rhymes, during lines such as, “Mama, you did everything you can, mama, you did everything you can but, please understand that you can’t teach me to be a man, you can’t teach me to be a man,” don’t get redundant, as they easily could have throughout the album. Rather, he chooses his words carefully to effectively relay to the listener the lessons he has learned throughout life and his thoughts on very personal subject matter. My Soul To Keep never seems to reach a slow or dull moment, and Stimuli’s lyrical creativity, versatility, and skill, paired with a solid instrumental backdrop, causes it to be the type of album that listeners will come back to over and over again.