Nato Caliph
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Nato Caliph

Saint Louis, Missouri, United States | Established. Jan 01, 1995 | SELF

Saint Louis, Missouri, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 1995
Solo Hip Hop Hip Hop





Cipher Inside takes backpacker hip-hop to its logical conclusion: Beginning with "Physics 720" and moving through lessons in "Applied Math 50" and "Political Science 380," Nato Caliph has come to impart his wisdom on global politics, local issues and race relations. Caliph's style of socially conscious hip-hop favors relaxed beats and slow, soulful samples. It's a method that allows him to unpack his guileless, tempered verses, which have a drowsy, monotone quality. His tracks won't pack the dancefloor, but Caliph's lyrics stick to the moral high ground and rely more on the message than the music.

"Try Win'n" is the album's most forceful track, with MF Grimm and MF Mez dropping in with spitfire verses which offset Caliph's relaxed flow. The track sets the tone for the second half of the album, where beats move to the front and Caliph brings a bit more vitriol and urgency to the lyrics. "Commencement Ceremony" collects all of Cipher Inside's themes — the importance of family, education and right living — while noting the divide between St. Louis' rap world and its underground hip-hop scene. By the end, it's clear that Nato Caliph would rather fight the good fight in the city's basement clubs than have the empty glamour of rap royalty. - Christian Schaeffer (Riverfront Times)

"We made you a mixtape! 2008: The year in music."

My local favorite remains "Move Man" by Nato Caliph. I spent the early part of my St. Louis summer listening to Cipher Inside, which was produced with the help of Gramophone owner Andrew (Roo) Yawitz. In fact, the innocuously titled "Add On" remains my favorite local track of the year — balmy and effortlessly confident, it's the perfect summer song.
— Kristy Wendt - Kristy Wendt (Riverfront Times)

"The Armchair Critic: Nato Caliph, Cipher Inside (F5 Records, 2007)"

As anybody who's followed our blog for any length of time knows, we don't review a whole lot of rap and hip-hop recordings here. So we were a little bit surprised when we were invited to download the album Cipher Inside by the St. Louis rapper Nato Caliph and provide a review for it online. I figured it couldn't hurt to give it a fair hearing, so I took up the offer.

On the positive side, Nato Caliph is as different from mainstream rappers as a typical folksinger is different from the latest American Idol star. With lyrics that are often both thoughtful and thought-provoking, Caliph eschews flash and showiness in favor of simple beats and some very serious politicizing. In addition to frequent barbs at the militarism of the Bush administration, he directs some of his anger towards the gang violence plaguing his own neighborhood and also to his fellow rappers. "A bunch of words to a beat mean nothing if they're only helping you," Caliph says in his opening salvo on "Physics 720 (and the Universal Laws of)," criticizing the selfishness in the rap community. He urges his listeners to arm themselves with knowledge as the means of getting out of the ghetto. Caliph frequently works with guest rappers; I'll wager a guess that most of them are friends of his from the St. Louis hip-hop scene.

I can't argue with what Caliph says. Instead, my criticism of the recording is that the underlying music isn't all that interesting, lacking the same care that Caliph put into the lyrics. In a week or two I'll be reviewing an album called From the Corner to the Block by the New Orleans funk band Galactic, in which the band gets a bunch of rappers to provide the lyrics. Without going into too much detail here about the other album, I think Caliph's raps would benefit enormously from that kind of backing, and Galactic could have used a contribution or two from Caliph as well. Still, Caliph's raps serve as a firm example that there's more to the genre than what is generally presented on MTV. Then again, there's a lot more to every style of contemporary popular music than what you see and hear in the media, so there's no reason to regard rap any differently.

Overall grade: B-

reviewed by Scott - Scott (The Armchair Critic)

"Nato Caliph::Cipher Inside::F5 Records"

Nato Caliph is such an understated and low-key rapper that he makes Cormeaga or GZA look like Busta Rhymes. Nato doesn't spit his rhymes, he mutters them under his breath and without exerting any extra energy, as if he were ordering a cup of chamomile tea at a coffee shop. The St. Louis rapper is about as far from Nelly and the St. Lunatics as you can get, both in his delivery and his lyrics.

I'll be honest: the first time I listened to "Cipher Inside," I was not feeling it. I thought it was boring and preachy, and I couldn't get over the fact that Nato was calling for revolution in tone more fitting for the library than the microphone. The more I listened to the album, however, the more it grew on me. A lot of it has to do with the confidence in Nato's delivery. He speaks softly because he doesn't need to yell - He KNOWS he's right.

The first line he drops spells out his mission statement: "A bunch of words to a beat mean nothing if they're only helping you." Nato does his best to make every line count, and to use hip hop as a positive force. His lyrics are thoughtful, intelligent, and on point:

"They tried to put us against us and you fell for that
Nothing hurts us more than black on black
I've learned new laws so I could properly break them
Stay close so I could properly shake you
I'm better than this
Divine Allah radical on the federal's list
It's a trip
Mastered self so I could swim in the pit
I don't get in where I fit in
I fit in where I get in
You dissing me? The bottom line is you're ignorant
Because I provide music for the soul and food for spirit
With King Tut delivery and Garvey lyrics"

There is no cursing on this record, and unlike Master P, Nato doesn't use this as a publicity stunt, saying the same tired garbage without the profanity. Instead he tackles subjects like racism, black unity, and the war. One of the most powerful songs is "Death Recall," which is a eulogy to the deceased, whether it be Nato Caliph's family, friends, unborn children, or even black leaders who are no longer with us. This is NOT just Nato pouring beer on the curb for his fallen soldierz. He goes for something much more deep and personal:

"I'm bringing back my unborn seed that I didn't give a chance to
Grow up intelligent, pretty, or handsome
And I know it takes two to decide
I pushed the issue
At the time I had too much pride
I really miss you"

Nato can come off preachy at times. He's like an older brother telling you to act right, and it's not always something you want to hear. He manages to be right on enough of the time to make his peachiness palatable, and he instills his message with just enough humility to not come off arrogant or self-righteous. That isn't to say he's suffering from low self-esteem, which is clear from "Commencement Ceremony�:

"I'm from a city where we separate the more real from the realer
The only light out of this black hole is true skill
We watch movies with no substance
And eat food just the same
And wonder why a bad body can't support a bad brain
I'm beyond doing my thing
I'm watching you do me now
So peep how
I'm the calling and the redial"

The beats, provided by DJ Crucial, Kenautis Smith, Stoney Rock, Tech Supreme, and Lyfestile, are generally as understated and quietly powerful as Nato's rhymes. Many of them are built around piano and string samples, and while there are a couple uptempo numbers, this is not an album for the club. A few of the tracks suffered from recording issues, but for the most part it sounds very good, and is head bobbing if not banging.

"Cipher Inside" is one of those records that grows on you the more you listen to it. Nato Caliph may not be the most energetic rapper, but he has a quiet determination that is hard to resist. He has created an album that is the perfect antidote to flashy, shallow hip hop, and one that deserves attention.

Music Vibes: 8 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 8 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8 of 10 - (Patrick Taylor)

"RFT Music 2014"

Nato Caliph
Nato Caliph is a St. Louis rap OG, who got his start after hearing the Eric B & Rakim song "Microphone Fiend" when he was just seven years old. He's been rapping ever since, with an arresting cadence that propels intelligent conversation -- his rhymes focus on family, work and his community rather than turning up in the club. Most recently his song "The Id," from 2013's Understanding Understood, was featured on The Source's website. Caliph also occasionally teams up with fellow nominee Black Spade -- the duo released its first joint effort in 2012, Force Majeure, which features beats by Spade and raps by both emcees.
-Tara Mahadevan - Riverfront Times

"Home Spun - Force Majeure"

Force compatriots Black Spade and Nato Caliph commit their long-running musical kinship to tape for the first time on Force Majeure. And I mean "tape" literally — this nine-song program (featuring two interludes and a remix) is being released on cassette and .mp3, and the abbreviated format shows the hip-hop soothsayers work their styles together and independently. It's a credit to the depth of these songs and the performers that the album feels deeper and longer than its 22-minute run time. Black Spade, under his Stoney Rock alias, handles the bulk of the production here, and his beats are forceful and direct, with a flurry of mood-altering samples (swooping strings on "Distance Unlimited," a plinky upright piano on "FrankenHop," vocal snippets from Dr. Dre and Jack Nicholson throughout). Black Spade's penchant for bizarro soul matches well with Nato Caliph's unblinking, perception-challenging verses.

Lawyers and Francophiles will know that "force majeure" translates as "act of God" — usually used as a stand-in for "disaster" in insurance claims. Caliph and Spade take the more positive meaning here, but these lyricists still take aim at a fair share of manmade disasters. "FrankenHop" challenges prefab hip-hop acts that are long on swagger and short on soul; Shorty Live (of the Alps Crew) drops a spirited verse over local turntablist DJ Alejan's scratches. "Impression X" takes a sweeping look at globalization and media saturation, from Monsanto and Apple to the effects of the C.I.A. and the Black Panthers. It's a mélange of references and boldface names that walk the line between rewriting history and advancing conspiracy theories.

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Black Spade's production slows down the BPM's and turns up the soul and funk as the tape reaches its second side. "The Best Part" stretches out the groove to a taffy-like consistency while Caliph holds down the center. "Coitus Magnetic," featuring the oohs and ahhs of Teresa Jenee, is a bona fide slow-jam, with Philly Soul string samples providing a waterbed of syrupy soul for the rather revealing lyrics. (Even the best rappers can't make the word "penetrate" sound anything less than clinical. Or gross.) But Spade's Aquarian soul jams and Caliph's consciousness-raising rhymes strike a balance between the soft and the hard and provide a solid complement to each other's strengths. - Riverfront Times


Kreative Cipher
Wisdom Cipher
The Homework Series
The Homework Series 2.0 (Extra Credit)
The Homework Series 2.1
Cipher Inside [LP] (2007)
POWER [EP] (2009)
REACH [EP] (2010)
Knowledge + Cipher (coming fall 2009...)



Known as The Move Man, Nato Caliph gets audiences on their feet and dancing to thought-provoking, socially conscious lyrics. The prolific Knowledge-Battle-Rhyme Spitter (as coined in his hit single Move Pt. 2) has collaborated with artists ranging from Murphy Lee of the St. Lunatics, Bits & Pieces, Soul Tyde and Konfusion to Creation. Well-known to underground hip-hop listeners, his impressive body of recordings have generated sales and interest from the Midwest (Vintage Vinyl, Disc Connection) to New York (Fat Beats) and across the globe via the Internet (,, and Hes moved crowds at the Missouri Black Expo and a number of St. Louis hot spots: Mississippi Nights and The Pageants 1st Fridays, Blueberry Hill, Hi Pointe, Red Sea and Creepy Crawl. Caliph has performed with The St. Lunatics and Bilal on stage while also contributing to several compilations, including Soul Tyde: Hip-Hop & Soulfulish and Dream-Reality records All about the Benjamins featuring Mystical and Cee-lo. Born Shedrick Remon Kelley on August 9, 1980, the St. Louis natives most influential years were spent growing up in the suburbs of University City. At U-City Senior High School in 1995, he met and befriended a schoolmate and hip-hop artist Phact to form KTC Konfusion to Creation. They soon enlisted a third member, Cin, to round out the hip-hop trio. As a finished product, KTC worked diligently to become three of St. Louis prospering underground minds and voices to be heard and felt throughout the streets. KTC received their first taste of fame when they performed their debut hit single, Smoken Verbs, at a performance at Washington University. Their individuality, originality and heady lyrical content grabbed listeners from the onset. Among his musical influences, Caliph cites the likes of Jay-Z, Rakim, Wu-Tang and The Lost Boyz. As an artist, however, Caliph is in a league of his own. He seasons his witty wordplay without use derogatory or foul language. He eschews the glorification of drugs, sex or violence in his music. Caliph founded Cipher Music Group in 2004, and has recently entered an alliance with F5 Records ( Standouts among his previous solo work include Wisdom Cipher, The Home Work Series Volume 1: Class is in Session, The Home Work Series Volume 1.2: Class is in Session + Bonus Tracks and The Home Work Series Volume 2: Extra Credit. The vinyl singles Move Pt. 2 and This is For received heavy rotation on St. Louis two hottest hip-hop radio stations, Q95.5 and 100.3 the Beat. His latest 7 album All I Know b/w From Here featuring Isis Jones was released in May 2005. With a pseudonym meaning to bomb with success, Caliph is determined to blow up on the hip-hop charts. With many accomplishments under his belt and a creative voice that demands attention, Nato Caliph has what it takes to successfully excel further within the music industry. .. .. .. Written by: Aaron Berkowitz

A definitive list of Nato Caliph albums and music can be found at

-- Recently nominated by the River Front Times Music Awards Committee for "Best Hip Hop/Rap (solo) Artist" in St. Louis, MO 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Band Members