San Diego's Leon St. Heron hasn't wasted any time in 2016. Starting off the new year with back-to-back singles, his latest, "Saint Martyn," mixes lyrics invoking black awareness and subtle word play to paint a vivid self-portrait. And it's one that exposes, in earnest, what makes him tick.
There's a slow build, opening with a spoken-word intro, "They stole your land/ Raped your wife/ Took away your name/ Take away your life," that dissolves into a swirling echo of looped sounds played in reverse before Heron -- in his smooth nasal flow atop crisp Stimp C.-produced drums -- gives props to his inner circle: "My n----- quarterbacking ain't no lacking in this huddle."
He's reflective ("In high school got all C's") and aggressive ("Who them n----- talking like, hands don't get thrown/ Who them n----- talking like we don't condone, violence"). It might seem gratuitous, particularly with a title like "Saint Martyn" but this is about self-preservation; it's live and let live but overstep your boundaries and Heron will defend himself.
He fully articulates that idea, "Turn a Martin into Malcolm/ A Malcolm to a martyr," then asks, "What you know about that/ Anger in my heart/ Fire in my blunt?" before abruptly switching gears to admit, "P---y in my bed/ I use it as a crutch" in the same couplet. It isn't very PC but that's not the point. These are revelations -- his truths -- and it makes for a lot of emotional depth. It's not sentimental or mushy but rather genuine, it's sincere; he's honest.
Even so, "Saint Martyn" doesn't get by on honesty alone -- it sounds good too. And while it's easy for artists to slip into cookie-cutter personas or charm listeners with personality, sometimes it's more compelling to hear a former C student marry the principles of MLK and Malcolm X into creative work that's not only revealing but that also makes your head nod.