23 February 2018

REVIEW: Skyzoo - In Celebration of Us

3 weeks ago today I woke up to my pre-order of Skyzoo's fourth (unless The Easy Truth counts, then it's his fifth) studio album, In Celebration of Us. My pre-order criteria is..let's say extensive. But Skyzoo DEF makes that cut. I put Sky in an elite group of "new" emcees (he's been around since the early oughts) that I feel hit a sweet spot (pause?). His beat selection: DOPE. Lyrics: top shelf. But those are both Hip Hop abilities that are a bit "easier" to have in your skill set. What Skyzoo adds to his repertoire is his superb subject matter and the ability to successfully create thematic projects. If your bars are insane, but you ain't saying shit, then you won't be around for long. At least I hope that's still the rule. Skyzoo remains relevant because he consistently pays attention to his subject matter. And to take it a step further, Sky is able to parlay those concepts into entire albums. To come up with an idea in your head and have it translate well to the masses is extremely difficult. When an album flows in a linear structure (with a beginning, middle, and end), it just gives the listener a totally different experience. I won't say better or worst, but it is something I can appreciate. In Celebration of Us is thematic, but I don't want you to think it plays as: chapter 1, chapter 2, etc. There is a theme that plays throughout, and you really notice this when you play the first and last track. 

The first track, "Everybody's Fine", starts off with a skit. ONLY negative critique: Sky should have let the skit be it's own track. It's a dope skit. Actually, it's very important to the album as a whole. But when you are reviewing the album (I also listen to albums on repeat even if I ain't reviewing them) and have to hear it 50+ times, you wish you could get right to the song. Like Netflix, I want to skip the intro credits. That's it. Back to the review. The skit is a conversation between two men in early 1982. You find out that one man is Greg, Skyzoo's father. Skyzoo's real name is Greg Skyler Taylor. Papa Greg is telling his friend (Tray Duce?) that he wants to leave the street game. Greg gets nothing but love and support from his friend. The friend tells Greg that he'll will be there for whatever he needs. After the skit we get into the actual track. Skyzoo hits us with one of his most beautifully complex verses I've ever heard. His signature cool flow rides the predominantly drum heavy instrumental. Where Skyzoo elevates his lyrical style is with the repetition of his rhyming patterns. Sky paints juxtaposing images that compliment each other like: 

Or you in a hall, up on the wall/ 
With department of corrections letters hovered up over where your name is/ 
Or you by the door, cap and gown to the floor/ 
8 years of proof hovered up over where your name sits 

Of course we still get all those internal rhymes and double entendres that are common from a Skyzoo project. But the effortless way he connects contrasting imagery is amazing. In two bars with similar poetic structures, we see two different people: one is a person getting their mugshot before they are incarcerated, and the other is a graduate (I assume with a masters since its 8 years) looking at their diploma in their home. The single verse actually plays twice. After a few DJ scratches, the beat looses the drums and Skyzoo speaks and comments that we are always told that "everybody's fine". The same verse plays again on the stripped down drum-less instrumental. I'm dissecting this part, but it might take me a while to truly appreciate the single track in its entirety. If you're a Hip Hop nerd like me, you'll loose track of time breaking this joint down. 

The final track, "Honor Amongst Thieves", follows a more typical Hip Hop song structure. Instead of single verse/no hook/repeat same verse (like "Everybody's Fine), we get the verse/hook/verse layout. The song ends with a skit (more like a recording of Skyzoo telling a story about his family at a listening party, I assume). By the way, this is another completely acceptable option. Instead of having a skit on its own track, it can start at the end of the song. The first part of the song repeats the question "do you believe" and provides different scenarios. The second verse is an autobiography that focuses on Skyzoo and his father. The speech that Sky gives after the song basically mirrors the story he tells. His youth was a Boyz n the Hood parallel, where he lived with his mother until he reached adolescence. After that he moved in with his father to learn "how to be a man". This song brings the album full circle. The first thing you hear at the start of the album is a skit reenacting the moment Skyzoo's father decided to leave the street once he found out he was having a son. The album ends with Sky speaking in present day, telling a story about being raised by his mother and father. Even though they were different households, his parents made sure to give young Sky the upbringing that was rare in his environment. 

#Blackexcellence. This hashtag has been at its peak this month. It is not by accident that Skyzoo decided to drop In Celebration of Us during Black History month. About the album, Skyzoo comments, "Conceptually, this is Ta-nehisi Coates meets Chappelle’s Show, The Autobiography of Malcolm X meets Black-ish, the case of Sandra Bland meets the birth of Air Jordans". As I mentioned above, Skyzoo keeps his subject matter relevant. He talks about police brutality, the street game, appropriation, love, family, relationships, gentrification, politics, black on black violence, death and religion. This featureless project (from an emcee standpoint) is probably one of his most complex works in his ever expanding catalog. Skyzoo once again comes correct. His lyrical ability is one that garners a certain amount of expectation. We EXPECT top notch production and bars. The Brooklyn emcee is product of NY Hip Hop but evolved into the next iteration of what you think of when you think "NY emcee". Lyrics are at the forefront. And the instrumentals harken back to the Golden Era NY sound. At this point it is hard to image Skyzoo missing any of his shots. In my humble opinion, In Celebration of Us needs to be in the mix when talking about #blackexcellence. 

Peep the whole album below. 

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13 February 2018

VIDEO: PRhyme - Era ft. Dave East

About a week ago we got the visuals to the first single from PRhyme 2, "Era". It's been a little over 3 years since we heard from the dynamic duo. But if you've been following Royce or Preem, you've been fiending for this project since the sequel was first teased about 2 years ago. The duo tapped Harlem emcee Dave East to split the lyrical duties with Nickel. Dave East is on a SERIOUS upswing in his career. East is riding the high of his own sequel project P2 (Paranoia 2) that dropped about a month ago. East switches up his flow to ride the stripped down Preemo beat, but remains true with his signature raw style.

But then Royce Da FUCKING 5'9" drops his BARS. Coming second to Nickel (especially in his own joint) is nothing to be ashamed about. East goes HARD. But Nickel goes INSANE. The way he effortlessly switches up his flow is classic Royce. And his metaphors are out of this world. Again, classic Royce. I love when two lyrical emcees team up to push each other to elevate their game. I have no doubt that Royce went as hard as he did because he knew the young East was gonna bring that fuego. As I mentioned, Dave East is aware that he needs to strike when the iron is hot. And that iron don't get hotter than a Preemo beat on a PRhyme track.

The video is more artistic than you would expect. A large dark room is filled with 4 (5?) rows of people from all walks of life. You get lines of people that are old/young, different races and from various occupations. Within this very organized scene you see Dave East, Royce and DJ Premier. In addition to this stage you two very juxtaposed scenes: you get flashes of a police officer (looks like SWAT, or something tactical) beating a black male and another scene of a black male beating up a person wearing the KKK garb. If the strength of this single (and the thoughtful nature of the video) is a glimpse as to what Preemo and Nickel are cooking up, we got another top shelf project next month.

Peep "Era" video below.

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07 February 2018

BITM Podcast Ep. 4 - 2017 Wrap - Up

The BITM crew is back with our first podcast episode of 2018!  On this episode, we finish discussing the last few albums of 2016, and jump into a few notable 2017 albums as well.  TwonJonson and The Niftian trade opinionated blows as stayfly remains neutral and plays his role as the voice of reason.  Just to name a few artists we touch on in this episode, we discuss Ab-Soul, Logic, ATCQ, De La Soul, Eminem, and Kendrick Lamar.

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06 February 2018

VIDEO: ILL Conscious - The Narrative ft Jay Royale

One of my boys sent me this single a few weeks ago. Had it on deck for a review, but I slept on it. Not really slept, more like knocking out a rack of album reviews and getting ready for our latest podcast. But I was hit with the follow up video to "The Narrative" single a few days ago. I've been aware of the existence of ILL Conscious for a few, but for one reason or another he fell under my radar. Which is crazy because the few tracks I've heard from him have been dope. With the blog, IG (I'm the lead for the squad) and the podcast, I'm even more immersed in the culture than ever. Sometimes there just ain't enough hours in the day to catch everything.

ILL Conscious is a Baltimore emcee who ain't even 30 yet (well 29, so comment still true). In the few tracks I've heard before "The Narrative", I would compare his rhyme scheme to a young AZ. But after hearing his latest joint, I can definitely see a touch of Big L in his flow. Everyone calm down. I ain't saying this dude is the second coming of a AZ/Big L hybrid. But if you know me, you know I always differentiate between the rappers from the emcees (I'm not gonna break that all the way down now, maybe for a future podcast). Emcees are students of the culture and have superior lyrical abilities (among other things). And for me, ILL checks all them boxes. Now onto the track.

The single benefits from a Golden Era influenced instrumental created by Venice Beach producer Eyedee. Real talk, this joint sounds like it jumped straight out of Doe or Die. The intro alone sets the mood with some soulful vocals (I STILL can't find out what sample it's from). Once the beats drops, ILL rides the track with an insanely smooth flow. If you need DEM BARS in your life, this joint will provide you with that lyrical sustenance. I can bring up more emcee references to compare ILL's style, but I won't. Just know this young dude is a prefect blend of past and present lyricists (in terms of influences, of course this dude is his own man). Enter Jay Royale, another Bmore spitter cut from the same cloth. The complimentary pairing of these emcees seems effortless. It kind of makes you wish for a Jada/Styles back and forth. The pair give you a glimpse into that Bmore life with grimey bars and metaphors. The track ends with DJ TMB chopping up a few vocals from Mobb Deep, Jay Z, and KRS ONE (I might have missed one or two others), providing a perfect bookend to the track.

The video for "The Narrative" fits naturally with the grimey bars and instrumental. The duo jump from a corner store, a residential and the metro. Besides the j.o.b. in Maryland, I ain't that acquainted with that many Bmore areas. Except for the metro of course. That's a DMV staple. But I'm sure there are a few landmarks that native Baltimoreans(?) will recognize. There is a "low fi" quality to the video that adds to the authenticity of the overall product. So whether you bumping the track in the whip or you watching the video at work, you will not be disappointed.

Final thought: this joint is a street BANGER. "The Narrative" is the debut single off of ILL Conscious' upcoming 2nd album, The Prerequisite. Keep your ears to the streets for that to drop (think I saw somewhere it was February 19th). And run through his first LP, The Essence, and his mixtape catalog. Bmore stand up.


Want your single, video or album featured/reviewed with BITM? Get at us:
https://www.instagram.com/bestinthemix/ (this might be best option)

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