After a few years of releasing mixtapes and collaborative projects, Brooklyn emcee Skyzoo returns with his second official solo effort, A Dream Deferred. The album pairs the rapper’s ever-improving lyricism and flow alongside bubbly and lavish jazz and R&B-tinged soundscapes. Production heavyweights like Jahlil Beats, Black Milk,9th Wonder, and DJ Khalil all contributed beats but it’s the live instrumentation—including violinists, pianists, and horn players—which were overseen by longtime collaborator Illmind, that steer the overall sonic direction of the record. Initially, heads that don’t like too much R&B all up in their rap music might not be inclined to give this more than a few spins. However, Skyzoo’s smooth dialect and charismatic prowess on the mic is strong enough that, given time, the album will grow on even the most hardened of B-boys.
Much like its predecessor The Salvation or, say, Torae’s For The Record, this album is more along the lines of this-is-my-story (see Kanye West’s College Dropout) and less I-am-who-I-pretend-to-be (see anything Kanye West post-Late Registration.) It wouldn’t be a stretch to draw comparisons to, for lack of a better term, the emo rap days of the early ‘00s when Atmosphere, Blueprint and Sage Francis were the face of indie hip-hop. That is to say, Skyzoo’s approach to songwriting is more about providing personal insights and allegorical mind-benders than it is about providing escapism or furthering the negative stereotypes often associated with rap lyrics.
The album’s leadoff single “Jansport Strings (One Time Up For Chi Ali)” is a perfect example of Skyzoo’s ability to cleverly tangle similes and autobiographical anecdotes. The hook goes, “One time up for Chi Ali/Cuz I could be in a box if I aint see that screen/My mama prayed that I wouldn't be Chi Ali/Now my mama straight cuz I wanted to be Chi Ali/They say my Jansport strings was tying it all together.” It would take a rap genius to decode the symbolic facets at play here—as a young boy Skyzoo was inspired to start rapping when he saw the video for Native Tongues child prodigy Chi Ali’s “Age Aint Nuthin’ But a #” on The Box, eventually Chi Ali ended up serving a twelve year bid stemming from an ’00 homicide, and in the ‘90s a Jansport backpack was considered a stylish accessory, highlighted by the two multi-colored strings that dangled from the zippers. (It should be noted, Chi Ali has since been released from prison, and he and Skyzoo have collaborated on a remix of the song.)
Another of the album’s highlights is the Talib Kweli feature “Spike Lee Was My Hero”, herein which the two emcees twist tales of life in BK using a bevy of metaphorical nods to Spike Lee films. In fact there are at least seven movies alluded to: She’s Gotta Have It, Jungle Fever, Clockers, He’s Got Game, Girl 6, Bamboozled, and School Daze. (I fancy myself somewhat of a Spike Lee aficionado, but unraveling the references in this one is as daunting a task as there is.)
A Dream Deferred borrows its title from a Langston Hughes poem of the same name. And in apropos fashion, Skyzoo, a bit of a renaissance man himself, lays down three and a half minutes of jazz-poetry at the end of “How to Make it Through the Hysteria.” It would be the perfect album-closer if it didn’t arrive three songs too early. Overall, Skyzoo’s magnetism and mic skills lend the album it’s most amiable attribute—he’s very likeable and he raps really, really well.
7.0 / 10
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