Where were you when you first heard Reasonable Doubt? I’m talking to those whose CD’s have Mr. Freeze records on it, not Def Jam. Those without the rose colored lenses, who didn’t catch on after the fact. Do you remember what stood out about that album? It wasn’t the lyrics, although they were there in abundance. It wasn’t the beats, although he was laced quite nicely. It was the truth; the honesty. It was immediate. If you were hustling, or even if you were pushing for a breakthrough, there was an urgency to Reasonable Doubt. The burden of the hustle. The reality of it. Inevitable. Inescapable.
We don’t often hear that urgency in Hip-Hop anymore. Everything is laid back or for the club. Music to ride to. Some of that is regional dominance and car culture. Much of it however, is the mentality of the current state of mainstream Hip-Hop. Everyone projects fantasy or hyper cinematic reality. The weight of real life is almost too immense to lyrically carry; the truth too hard to convey.
Every so often, an emcee comes around that is capable of transmitting that urgency. One who is strong enough to battle the beats and intelligent enough to carry the streets without appealing to the lowest common denominator. Last night, I had the pleasure of hearing an album by such an emcee. His name is Skyzoo, and he may have a bomb on his hands.
The album begins with “The Opener” which features street corner singers belting themes of salvation; appropriate since the music is Sky’s way out of a life surrounded by a hood that takes men under. Keys and strings combine for musical melancholy and slowly segue into the boom-bap. This song is dense; layered like lyrical lasagna. It feels like his entire life was building to this moment.
Just Blaze clocks in with “Return of the Real.” This song is very loud, but in a good way. It feels like a winter night coming home from the club at 4 AM with the music blasting on high to keep you awake because it’s late and you got the heat on. The beat is full of noise and panic and Skyzoo is smart enough to go where the beat takes him. A beat like this allows an emcee to be Trent Dilfer: don’t turn the ball over and the defense will win the game.
9th Wonder does his best Primo impression on “The Beautiful Decay.” You can hear his reverence for those classic 90’s albums, particularly the aforementioned OB4CL.
The bottom-heavy Best Kept Secret-produced “My Interpretation” has a lot of gravity to it. It’s big enough to knock in the whip with enough elements to sound really interesting in your headphones. Skyzoo showcases a great pacing ability. He never overdoes it, yet never sounds like he isn’t up for the moment. After you rock to this beat you go back and digest what he has to say.
The Knotz-produced “Popularity” is really funky and will probably end up as the lead single. Skyzoo flows effortlessly with the proper amount of arrogance and hubris for a song thusly entitled. “I throw words off the hips like Akeelah & them. “ Flat out bodybags on this track.
9th Wonder returns with “Marathon,” a barebones track which allows Skyzoo the freedom to get busy. By now you can see that the album alternates between the emcee and the music, with some songs showcasing either his blackout skills, or his ability to tame the beats. This song in particular reminded me of Reasonable Doubt because it hints at a slickness, but the real power is the breadth of experience and the depth of thought.
Emotional nakedness is missing in Hip-Hop right now. Songs like “All That I Got Is You” allowed men to emote without sappy saccharine singles. Sky tries his hand at this kind of honesty with another 9th Wonder track “Under Pressure.” Unlike many 9th Wonder works, this song is very dynamic, moving around and away from basic loop format. On an adult level, Sky goes from blaming his girl for their troubles, to blaming her friends, to finally accepting responsibility for his part in their relationship problems. The chorus changes subtly to reflect that. Distinctly clever and honest and it sounds good.
Other standout tracks on this work include dumb-out track “Penmanshi,p” the soulful “Dear Whoever” and the rich narrative “The Shooter’s Soundtrack” which plays like a new millennium “Children’s Story.”
This is not a flawless album, or one that will break the mold, but it is gripping, well-produced, and well sequences. It’s an album worthy of purchase on its own merit. Skyzoo as an emcee is very potent. His rhymes are layered and dense and not dependent on punchlines. He wastes no words and emotes fairly well.
Should his career truly take flight, we will look back at this work the same was we look at Reasonable Doubt and say we knew him when. If he has as much love for this music as I think he does, this won’t be his best album. Even if it is, however, that would be no tragedy. It’s an album we can all be proud of; devoid of bring New York back histrionics. Listen to it and you’ll realize that you don’t have any reason to doubt Skyzoo.
Out of 5
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