Magnum KI is a boundary-breaking, genre-bending hip-hop group from Winnipeg, Canada. With the late-eighties and early-nineties backpacker movement as the common influence bonding the four core members, Magnum KI finds interesting new ways of marrying their individual strengths together and coming up with a new spin on the traditional style of hip-hop they grew up on. By combining boom-bap drums and socially-conscious lyrics with infectious melodies and dance floor conscientiousness, they transcend the label of “rap group,” and pass into new realms of hip-hop and pop hybrid on a level often attempted but rarely achieved. As a back-drop, the will to rock the party is firmly established within the group’s sensibilities, though their inspirations are never far from the gritty Winnipeg streets that surrounded them growing up. This fact makes sure their music is never soft, never predictable, and entirely genuine.
The live show is of utmost importance to Magnum KI, and that is obvious to anyone who has seen them perform. The group has been known to team up with some of Winnipeg’s most celebrated Jazz musicians for concerts around the city, but are maybe at their best, certainly at their rawest, when they are a quartet. They are lead by Nigerian-born emcee and vocalist Imsaila Alfa, whose powerful voice adds conviction and emphasis to the group’s lyrical content. Beside him on the mic is Ronda “Fenom” Thompson, whose deeply soulful singing voice is coupled with sharp emcee skills, often surprising to those unfamiliar with the likes of Bahamadia or MC Lyte. Behind them are the production team of Rob Crooks and Michael “DJ Kutdown” Arnone, whose live MPC abilities and precision turntablism, respectively, not only give the group the energy of a live band, but also give Ismaila and Ronda the chance to break-down and build-up the songs in anyway the moment dictates. The result is an exhaustive live-show, filled with explosive peaks and emotional valleys of freestyle-laden, genuine hip-hop based experiences, unlike any other around.
Their most-recent release, Magnum KI (Foultone Records, 2010) is an excellent cross-section representation of what this group is all about. From their hard-hitting, fast-paced party anthems like “No Way,” to the smooth pop influenced dance-floor pleasers like “Tired,” to the socially restless tributes like “Phoenix,” the album displays the complicated make-up of life in a mid-Western North American city, full of booze-cans, immigrant struggle and under-age sex-trade workers. This album may make you think; it may make you want to party; but one thing it will definitely do is make you nod your head and tap your feet.