Four years in the life of Hartford rapper Tang Sauce unfold across the 17 tracks of "Maturity," a debut album that marks time, memory and connection.
There are mentors — rapper Self Suffice, for example, who joins Tang Sauce on "The Key" — and hip-hop elders: Abiodun Oyewole, founding member of the Last Poets, adds verses to "The Fountain.
You hear talented newcomers: king kraM (aka Mark Eastmond) acts as Tang's foil on "Feelin' the Flava" and "One Time for Your Mind," which also features a vocal hook by singer-songwriter Brandon Serafino. Scattered throughout "Maturity," friends and loved ones drop encouraging voicemail messages; each one is titled "pendo" — Swahili for "love."
"If anything, 'Maturity' was more like a journey," Tang says. "So many things have happened in between starting and ending the album. ... All that stuff impacted the album in different ways."
Tang Sauce (John Manselle-Young, 24) is a former member of West End Blend, a 10-piece Hartford funk, hip-hop, soul band. He has worked with blues musician XY Eli. In addition to rapping and playing several instruments (including trumpet and guitar), he's also an accomplished dancer.
Most of all, perhaps, Tang is a communicator. "I could read a book," he raps on "Nakedsense," "and I know I could check Google/but person-to-person knowledge is what I'm sticking true to."
Last month, Tang held a CD release party at Eight Sixty Custom, a skate shop that also hosts hip-hop shows. Local performers — Williano Santoro, G. Young, Orice Jenkins and many others — took turns on the mic. Tang's mother, Leslie Manselle, sold T-shirts and CDs. His girlfriend, Kayla, was there; so was king kraM, who brought his mother and young niece. Giant skeleton puppets by artist Anne Cubberly lurched around skateboard ramps. Tang greeted everyone in person.
Tang's father, Joe Young, wrote and produced "Diamond Ruff," a Hartford-based feature-length film that debuted in January 2015. He operated Young Studios in Hartford, where he worked on the movie, ran a recording studio, hosted talent shows and taught graphic design to kids.
"My dad's been doing his thing ever since before I was born," Tang says. "He's always working very, very hard. He's the busiest person I know. I learned from his work ethic. If you ever want to do something where you are your own boss, you have to just be grinding. ... Being a black business owner downtown, when a lot of businesses were going down, he was staying up."
Early on, Tang envisioned "Maturity" (the working title was "The Hartford Renaissance") as an artistic rite of passage. He recorded tracks on his own for a year, and then took them to producer Era REdux.
"It was like a posse," Tang says. "I would be recording, but I'd have four or five or six people in the studio. The studio was in Era's bedroom, so you can imagine how big that would be. It was tight in there, but everyone got to add to the environment. It wasn't just me. I'd say a line, and someone would say, 'Try and say it like this.' That added a little extra to it. There was a lot of synergy."
As a rapper, Tang homes in on intimate moments. He's facing down a blank page on "Make Moves" ("New ish, I gotta write some new ish/Got the pen to the pad I'm, at it again/Ink on the page spilling thoughts through the pencil/For the mental like Jarobi continental). He's capable of tongue-wrecking alliterative verses, as on "One Time for Your Mind":
Immaculate intentions important internally
Insider insight inside interpretive integrity
Outsourcing's opposite outlines opportunity
Outside, other outer-lying objectionably
Said statements suggested so superficially
Think towards thee, thine thoughts top tier tremendously
Keep your cypher serving you so infinitely
And know forever never ends, like the Fibonacci
Over two years, Tang visited REdux's studio around 12 times. Eastmond (king kraM), one of Tang's best friends, "has only been rapping for about a year and a half," he says, "but he's progressed really quickly." Self Suffice took Tang to open mics in New York. "He helped me out a bunch, just learning music stuff from him," Tang said.
Other performers and producers on "Maturity" include Warren Justice, Oktober Brown, Dan Di Lion, Hi Fadility, Smoked Out Productions, Melodic, Zuly and Paul Philippone, his former West End Blend bandmate.
Three years ago, while dancing with a local company, Tang met Oyewole, the Last Poets founder. "They're the first group to do poetry over drums," Tang says. "They inspired Gil-Scott Heron. I was like, 'Oh, man.' I was elated."
Oyewole, in turn, enjoyed Tang's dancing. At the beginning of 2015, Tang asked Oyewole to appear on "Maturity," and he agreed.
"It was an honor," Tang says. "That made my whole year, somebody I look up to that much. That was full circle. One of my favorite things about this project is that you never knew what one thing was going to lead to. That's why it's always good to be on point, to keep your sword sharp at all times."
Tang Sauce will co-host this year's Trinity Hip-Hop Festival (April 7-10 on the Hartford campus), and will open for headliner Rakim on April 9. He's currently planning a tour — the Maturity Tour — and hopes the album's success will lead to a full-time music career. It's too soon to start on a follow-up, but he already has a title in mind: "Hip-Hop and Coffee."
"As far as the next album goes," Tang says, "my phrase is, 'Cook it until it's hot.' I have some ideas, and I always just want to outdo itself."
Stream and purchase Tang Sauce's music at bangdollatang.bandcamp.com.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Press Play is a column exploring the underground musicians of Connecticut. If you have new music to share, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.