​Tumi’s albums: from best to just okay

The self-titled album gave birth to one of his biggest radio singles, By Any Means, featuring Emtee and Yanga.

It has been a long journey for one of the most prolific and skilled hip-hop artists of our time. He has released countless singles, EPs, mixtapes and albums, but he took the long route to stardom, and it has done him far more good than bad.

With one of the most impressive and extensive discographies in the region, a fan might be tempted to compare all his full albums, rating them from best to not-the-best. Although not an easy task, we have attempted it below. Only albums and EPs were considered so, although mixtapes TZ Deluxe and Powa are brilliant projects, they weren’t included in this list.

1. Return of the King (2015)
After a five-year hiatus, Tumi came back as sharp as ever. ROTK is flawless. Tumi displayed a virtuoso rhyming skill that was accessible but not mundane. ROTK had an x-factor and character — the production was monolithic but not monotonous, with a diverse list of artists one would have never expected to hear in an album that isn’t a compilation. The beats were as big as the man, and he laced every one of them with fitting subject matter and varied flows to match each one, with every feature strategically placed to complete the song they appear on.

2. Pick a Dream by Tumi and the Volume (2010)
Tumi’s last album with his band was also their best. Although Live at the Bassline and the self-titled studio debut required your undivided attention, Pick a Dream had songs you could fall in love with individually. Tumi experimented with catchier hooks and the music was much livelier than previous efforts.

3. Stogie T (2016)
Stogie T is the best of both worlds — Tumi managed to select beats that are favoured by rappers in the 21st century while still maintaining his lyrical standard. Stogie T is celebratory, with most of the songs designed to appeal to newer, younger fans, and to be listened to socially instead of being studied in the dark with headphones like much of his previous, more ‘’conscious’’ work. The songs are written eloquently and provide insight — the man gives you a valid reason for popping bottles.

4. Live at the Bassline by Tumi and the Volume (2004)
As a listener, you have to meet Tumi and his band halfway. The lyrics are dense — the rapper packed lines with as many words as he could, and the lyrical content is what boxed him as a “conscious rapper”. Live at the Bassline was surely better experienced live but it’s still a great listen, with almost every song on the same level. Tumi wasn’t putting a lot of effort into crafting memorable songs but rather concentrated on content that would remain relevant for decades to come.

5. Music from My Good Eye (2006)
The warm and sultry production on Tumi’s first solo, full-length album provided a perfect backdrop for the rapper to tell the story of a struggling artist with dreams that were seen as too ambitious at the time. Add to that some social commentary on sex work, exile and privilege and Music from My Good Eye is an emotional body of work, with subject matter that was a bit too heavy on the ear, but the smooth production and soulful hooks made it bearably heavy as a nice mixture of poetry and traditional rap.

6. The Journey by Tumi & Chinese Man (2015)
Released in the same year as ROTK, The Journey saw Tumi in similar top form. The music was boom-bap, adulterated with electronic elements by the French production trio. Tumi has different flows for every beat thrown his way, and lyrically he has impact and is as skilled as usual, with complex rhyme schemes and wordplay that require many listens. The Journey is a challenging listen but it’s essentially a rapitty-rap release for hardcore rap fans, with the focus being on beats and rhymes — no catchy sing-song hooks here.

7. Whole Worlds (2010)
Released in 2010, the same year as Pick a Dream, this second solo album ushered in a new era of Tumi. The lead single featured Brickz at a time when it was unheard of for a conscious hip-hop purist like Tumi to collaborate with a kwaito artist. The guest list on Whole Worlds was diverse but Tumi managed to craft a uniform album that was almost as emotional as Music from My Good Eye, with personal stories of love, growing up, death and adulthood. He also paid tribute to Miriam Makeba in the song Stage Lights. Whole Worlds was a predictably solid effort, and suffered only from trying to be a lot of things all at once.

8. Tumi and The Volume by Tumi and the Volume (2006)
Just like Live at the Bassline, TATV’s first studio album lacked standout songs — not that it needed any. It was clearly intended to be consumed as one body of work, which is also its weakness. It sounds almost like a jam session. But on this album Tumi excelled in the delivery department. He switches flows for every drum pattern and tempo the band employed.

9. A Dream Led to This (2002)
Released through Australian NuffSaid Records, A Dream Led to This was a smooth boom-bap rap EP that showed glimpses of greatness. Tumi’s delivery has always been pristine, even when you fail to grasp his lyrics, especially on first listen. This release was for the hip-hop purists, with no catchy choruses or pop sensibilities. The rapper was rapping to impress just as much as he was rapping to express.

10. Tao of Tumi (2001)
Tao of Tumi revealed a diamond in the rough. He was a hungry emcee and skilled poet, sometimes unsure of which of the two he really was. Tumi was still trying to come up with a way to show his talent to the world. He knew he had skill, and was still fascinated with the ability to just rhyme, demonstrated by a skit in which he is just spitting a verse to a friend. Lyrically, Tao of Tumi was near abstract, and leaned towards conscious rap, from a man who knew who he was, with Bambatha in his arteries.

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