Hip Hop

Navy Blue "Song of Sage: Post Panic!"

Depending on your existing knowledge of skate culture, streetwear, and Frank Ocean minutia you may or may not know Navy Blue by the name of Sage Elsesser. Under his birth name he achieved teenage/early adulthood renown as a professional skateboarder sponsored by such obscure niche brands as Supreme and Converse before branching out into modeling, sneaker design, and art direction, then going on to appear on Frank Ocean’s Blonde and collaborate musically with his roomie Earl Sweatshirt, which makes sense given their shared taste for blunted beats and razor-sharp lyrics and laid back but tongue twisting flows. Today Elsesser draws more than occasional comparisons to legends like Dilla (RIP) and Doom (RIP) which is enough to make the rest of us reassess our five-year plans.

On Song of Sage: Post Panic!, his second full-length released under Navy Blue, the moniker is linked (“I been feeling Navy Blue just like my father’s cigarettes," referring to a now-obscure brand of British cigarettes) in one single turn of phrase to familial heritage and chemical addiction and struggles with depression which just happen to be a few of the recurring themes on the album. Across eighteen tracks of introspective, incantatory raps and equally incantatory, trance-inducing production, Song of Sage bridges the gap between the blues and hip hop with its emotional power and musical aesthetics. It would be interesting to test the theory but I bet open-minded fans of old-school Hill Country blues artists (see Mississippi Fred McDowell, Junior Kimbrough, Rosa Lee Hill, R.L. Burnside) would get into this album intuitively given their overlap in mesmerizing grooves and plaintive vocals and heady vibes.

Tracks on the album like “Tired", “Post Panic!” and “Self Harm,” with their unsparing accounts of trauma and its PTSD-inflicted aftermath, act as mental health mic checks (in high demand these days) but by the final track the light at the end of the toll tunnel shines on our guide with hard-won “tears of joy / my pain fixed.” Further musical solace is provided throughout Song of Sage, which some Internet heads have deemed the best produced album of 2020, with production duties shared by Animoss, Bori, Nicholas Craven, Evidence, Jacob Rochester, Alexander Spit, Chuck Strangers, and Roper Williams, alongside five tracks produced by Navy Blue himself.

Throughout the album Navy Blue has seemingly no fear when it comes to exposing open-wounded vulnerability like on “Moment Hung” where he dives straight into the troubling ambiguity of its title vacillating between states of grace, resignation, rage, and pacification just in its opening bars--“I’m moving graciously through all the nonsense / I was complacent when this shit was toxic / fuck all these racists they getting their tops split / your lucky day ‘cause I’m not with it / never fazed by a white critic [that's me, admittedly] crucial / most this shit not unusual”--going on to lament the by-now-tragically-routine dehumanization of bodycam/cell phone public lynchings that “televise the demise” of “our fathers, our aunties and uncles.”

Despite this painful subject matter, the Ryosuke Tanzawa directed music video for the song features Mr. Blue taking his adorable pooch for a walk down a snow-covered Brooklyn block and across a neighborhood park while massaging the doggie’s ears, and listeners' ears, with a melodious flow backed by a buttery Natalie Cole-sampled track produced by Jacob Rochester. Taken together the music, lyrics, and video are a beautifully executed example of the centuries-old tradition of signifyin(g) where familiar one-to-one associations and seemingly incompatible impulses are mashed up and subverted and inverted, using the language of the oppressor as a means of subverting the language of white supremacy itself. In other words, it’s complicated, just like real life.


Along these same lines of colliding impulses and emotions, it’s no mistake that the crossroads is the storied origin of the blues, as in the famous Mississippi crossroads where Robert Johnson made his famous Faustian bargain, serves as a stand-in for all the deals with the devil made in the nation's history and bringing us to our current state of affairs. On Song of Sage Navy Blue deals with all kinds of crossroads especially those moving across space and time. For example take the opening track “Dreams Of A Distant Journey” with a hook evoking the tangled roots of uprooted peoples, linked to the Yoruban veneration of sacred points of intersection as preserved in Afro-Caribbean religious traditions

I got a fam in Santiago, I got a fam in Tennessee
Child of Ogun his spirit walk amongst the trees
Proper dearest came from Nashville, it’s Choctaw in me
It’s Choctaw in me

Moving from spatial crossroads to temporal crossroads on “1491,” the legacy of Christopher Columbus’s so-called discovery of the Americas is traced forward to its echoes in the present--a crossroads reaching across centuries that's yet to be transcended. But in the meantime and in these mean times, at least we have music like Navy Blue's as a way to transcend and to acknowledge all those who are simultaneously bleeding. 



Hip Hop

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Kasey "In Da City"

Kasey (aka Kaeshawn Diaz) recently teamed up with Lil Bebe J and The Entro on a new single called "In Da City". This is Kasey's fourth single of 2020 and first to highlight his ability to pivot into a more heavily R&B influenced sound.

2020 was Kasey's first year releasing music and with each new track he only got stronger and more refined. He is definitely and artist to watch in 2021.

Photo by Figurative Shooting


GAWNE "Godspeed"

Luke Gawne (aka GAWNE) has had a prolific 2020 and just dropped a new EP called "Godspeed". The new EP features production from Dansonn and is a flurry of hard hitting lyrics clocking in under 8 minutes over 5 tracks.

Earlier this month he released a hilarious Christmas track called "Bad Santa" showing that although he is a serious and skilled emcee, he doesn't always have to take himself so serioursly.


Celebrate Zose Hanukkah with Your Old Droog

On this, the last day of Hanukkah aka Zose Hanukkah, consider this provocative hypothesis: Hip Hop and Hanukkah are brothers from another mother. For one thing, both are tied to numerology. Hanukkah lasts eight days and nights--the number eight being a “number of completion” that symbolizes the “metaphysical world” in Judaism. Cut that number in half and you've got the fabled “four elements” of Hip Hop: DJing, MCing, B-Boying, and Graffiti Art. Plus both Hip Hop and Hanukkah incorporate an extra number “to grow on.” During Hanukkah there’s the ninth candle in the middle of the menorah--called the shamash--used to light the other candles as the holiday progresses. And in Hip Hop there’s the well-known trope of the “fifth element” variously said to be knowledge, beatboxing, basketball, fashion, or some other something. 

Also, both celebrate the warrior spirit. The Jewish holiday honors the Maccabees, the rebel warriors who took control of Judea, while Hip Hop celebrates verbal warriors who brandish liquid swords in street cyphers or Verzuz battles, and DJs who battle each other in parks, playgrounds, and turntablist competitions. Zooming out another level, hip hop celebrates the warriors who battle socio-economic oppression and white supremacy. 

Finally, Hip Hop is sometimes described as the art of making “something from nothing," and likewise, Hanukkah celebrates the miracle of a paltry supply of lamp oil somehow lasting eight days inside the newly retaken Temple of Jerusalem. So you see, practically the same thing! Let’s go ahead and declare “Hip Hanukkah” the portmanteau of the day and get Lin-Manuel Miranda to write the musical.

Which brings us to the real subject of this piece and the inspiration for the chin-stroking thesis above: the Brooklynite rapper of Jewish-Ukrainian ancestry known as Your Old Droog, who yesterday released the Hanukkah-dedicated single seen at the top of this piece. For five years-plus YOD has been making waves in the hip hop underground, a favorite of heads who recognize his formidable skills and appreciate his verbal acrobatics, encyclopedic references (forget about consulting Genius since YOD had all his lyrics removed from the site), clever punchlines, and grimy ‘90s-style beats. Collaborations with the likes of Danny Brown and Heems have only cemented YOD’s reputation. 

Often compared to such upper echelon verbalists as Nas and MF Doom, YOD achieved early notoriety when he first started posting tracks on SoundCloud minus any additional social media presence or photos or personal info of any kind. This quickly led to rumors that YOD was actually Nas recording under a pseudonym. After positively IDing himself in a 2014 New Yorker profile and subsequently selling out a show at Webster Hall, it was revealed that he was actually a heretofore unknown white dude from Coney Island. Your Old Droog had seemingly come out of nowhere and created “something out of nothing” right out of the box.

But in reality more than just “some white dude” as his last two records have made clear--concept albums focused, respectively, on his Jewish heritage and Eastern European ethnic ancestry. On the first day of Hanukkah, late in 2019, YOD dropped Jewelry. The third full-length released in an insanely prolific year, the album opens with a track called “Shamash” (the ninth menorah candle referenced above!) that opens with the sound of a matchbook being struck which transitions into a hazy, dubby beat with incantations over the top that all sounds either highly spiritual or like someone coming down from a latke binging session. 

[[Editor's note: A Jewish colleague informs us that this track "samples someone reciting the blessings that we say each night as we light the Chanukah candles." We advise caution to Deli readers looking to this publication for advice or instruction on religious practices of any kind. And now back to our regularly scheduled programming...]]

But soon you’re snapped back to lucidity with the track “Jew Tang” (Ain’t Nuthin’ to F*** With!) that with its buzzing, lumbering beat feels like nearly getting run over by a Mitzvah tank barreling down Eastern Parkway with (one time?) Hasidic reggae icon Matisyahu in the passenger seat. Here and elsewhere on the album YOD spits bars that slant-rhyme “Cash Rules...” with “Kashrut” (Jewish dietary standards!) and chrome mags with Cro-Mags (NYC hardcore legends!) and lots of other mind-expanding lyrical mashups besides. If there’s a better portrait of punk rockers and hip hoppers and multi-hued Brooklynites of all types existing together in all of NYC's true grit and glory I’d like to hear it.

if there one thing you can surely say about Your Old Droog is that you’ll never find him “writing the same thing over and over / like Bart Simpson in detention"--a charge he levels against wack rappers in “The Greatest To Ever Do It”--since on every project he takes on a new direction. And the recently-released Dump YOD: Krutoy Edition is no exception as YOD code-switches between English and Russian (his first language) on tracks named after locales such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan. It's a bold assertion coming from someone who's been frequently misperceived in the past: “if you were my complexion and poor / they just thought you were Spanish.”

A sonic travelogue, Dump YOD is a trip in the truest sense with train whistles and barrel organs and mournful horns and hammered dulcimers and that’s all on the first couple of tracks. These sounds help to sketch the plight of a “legal alien” as described near the end of “Ukraine,” which opens with YOD thinking back on being “outsiders since day one / been there since way young / used to squirm in the seat / when teachers called out my name, son.” In an age of widespread Nativist zeal it’s a potent message for immigrants and children of immigrants--who are well aware that “the hardest thing to be is yourself.” (Jason Lee)