On Song of Sage: Post Panic! Navy Blue places himself within an emerging movement of alternative Hip Hop that draws from deep within the culture’s history while finding space to experiment. The most obvious comparison stylistically would be with Earl Sweatshirt, who Navy Blue collaborated with on Earl’s 2018 classic Some Rap Songs. Like Earl, Navy Blue rejects the pomp and frills of much of contemporary Hip Hop, focusing more on short songs with no choruses, little in the way of conventional structure, and repetitive sample-based beats.
In this way, both these artists return to the essential elements of Hip Hop form. Earl’s work, however, tends towards a darkness and intensity which is absent from this album. While Navy Blue does sometimes deal with similarly heavy topics, he does so with a wistful melancholia; sometimes attaining a sense of euphoria or transcendence.
Instrumentally this album sticks well within the tradition of sampling jazz, funk, and soul records which has been a staple of the culture since the 1980s. It pushes this, however, to its most raw and minimal, seeming to draw on the work of Madlib and Jay Electronica in particular. Many of the beats are drumless and, as such, escape the safety often afforded by the strict kick and snare patterns of the boom bap style which has dominated much of Hip Hop sampling. Some beats even eschew convention time signatures. The song ‘Poderoso’, for example, is built around a meandering guitar line that never seems to be able to find a stable rhythm.
As such, Navy Blue’s rapping often feels somewhat disconnected from the beats. This is not a problem. It is a sign of great skill when a rapper can sometimes stray so far from an instrumental, while their verses still seem to fit. In this way, he sounds like a Jazz drummer during a solo, who will switch through various meters and rhythms while keeping mind of the steady pulse underwriting everything he does.
In a post-Eminem culture where some many young rappers think technical skill comes from rapping as many multisyllable rhyme schemes as quickly as possible, it is refreshing to hear a rapper so comfortable on an album. Song of Sage: Post Panic! is unashamed of its influences, though it is not overwhelmed by them. It’s a work rich with individuality and talent, which breaks convention as much as it respects the traditions it draws from.
Image: Eric Chakeen