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Album of The Year #25: Navy Blue - Song of Sage: Post Panic!

Artist: Navy Blue

Album: Song of Sage: Post Panic!

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Background

I remember discovering Navy Blue for the first time on The Mint back in 2018. Many already knew Navy Blue as Sage Elsesser through his incredible skateboarding and affiliation with Odd Future. I was too young at the time when Odd Future was a cultural staple, so The Mint was my first exposure to his art. I went into hearing his verse with no expectations and came away impressed. His verse is succinct but potent. In a way, you can describe a lot of his music in that way. He grips you in immediately. The verse gave many a good glimpse into Navy Blue as an artist. The intensely vulnerable way that he writes. The themes that a lot of his music covers like depression, anxiety, feeling the spirits of those gone before, and coping with losses of loved ones both in a literal and a figurative sense. Though I really enjoyed his verse, I didn’t check out his music further until my cousin, who was just beginning to become a big fan of the SLUms movement, sent me his verse on Mike’s Like My Mama. This is the verse that really put me onto how special of an artist Navy Blue is. He spins a web of familial trauma with a stunning autobiographical and direct verse. When you listen to Navy Blue, it’s very apparent that music is one of his forms of therapy. In turn, his radical vulnerability and openness help many cope, or at least, learn more about the human spirit. From that verse on, I checked out his breakthrough EP, from the Heart. The song that really turned me into a Navy Blue fan was never thought I’d be one to cry like this. If you have never checked out this song, please do. The instrumental is perfect and produced by Navy Blue himself. The samples are chopped beautifully. Navy Blue has a beautifully rough and raw melodic flow, especially on the chorus. Man, that chorus always has an effect on me. The chorus goes:

Never thought I'd be one to cry like this

Never thought I'd be one to cry like this

Papa took a deep breath and died real quick

Just like my father, I love me a spliff

Folks walk with a limp like it's something he'll hit

This is one of the most direct ways I’ve heard death described in music. Our loved ones really can be gone in an instant. However, they’re never truly gone as long as we remember them. Later in the song, Navy commits to living in his father’s honor. It’s a beautiful song that’s filled with pain but is able to retain a sense of hope. Exemplified with these lyrics at the tail end of the song:

When I sit down and veg on my deeper meaning

Reappear with the sun gleaming The whole

from the Heart is full of beautifully raw songs that are rough around the edges that is a great introduction to Navy Blue as an artist. Up until the album that I will get into later, this was my favorite project of his.

Along with releasing from the heart in 2018, Navy produced one of my favorite beats of all time, Azucar, off of Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs. The sample chop is life-affirming. It’s truly one of the best chops that I have ever heard. It’s impossible to overstate what an amazing producer Navy Blue is. He has produced most of his solo songs and contributed many phenomenal sample-heavy beats to other underground artists like Mach-Hommy, Earl Sweatshirt, Mike, Armand Hammer, and Ankhlejohn, As his career has progressed, he’s only matured as a producer with incredibly textured and gorgeous loops.

It’s no secret that Navy Blue had a monster year in 2020. He released his mostly self-produced debut album, Ada Irin early in the year. It built upon the foundation that he laid out with his other projects. He continued with his poetic, mature, spiritually based lyricism. The project delves deep into mental health struggles, retaining hope through being grateful, persevering through pain and grief, and receiving guidance from loved ones both alive and who have left the physical plane. There is much to write about this album as I take more away from it each listen. I will try to keep it brief, due to the fact that I haven’t even gotten to the main album I’m writing about. The production is slightly psychedelic and always engaging. Ka features and, as always, contributes a great verse. It’s truly amazing that Navy Blue was able to secure a Ka feature on his debut album, but it’s not all that surprising. When you hear Navy’s music, you know it’s truthful and you can feel him bearing his soul. That can be a rare quality in music. He has been able to express that rare quality throughout his career, and, to my ears, that’s really what makes his music so great.

In the remaining months of 2020, Navy Blue had his biggest year in terms of collaborative output. He dropped a great guest appearance on Face by Ovrkast. I highly recommend watching the music video that accompanies that song, it’s gorgeously shot. Elsewhere, he dropped great verses on Mach-Hommy’s Count Chocula, Preservation’s North Bridge, and Moor Mother & Billy Wood’s Portrait to name just a few. On these guest verses, he gracefully adapted to the variety of beats, but never sacrificed his distinct way of writing or rapping. Production-wise this year, he really excelled. He produced many highlights on the best underground hip-hop albums of 2020. Including, solely producing and creating some of his best beats to date on Anklejhn’s As Above, So Below album. However, probably my favorite highlight he made this year, up until “Song of Sage: Post Panic!”, was the one-off single no foolin’ (post panic: prelude). I actually did not hear this song until a couple of weeks ago, though it was originally released on Soundcloud in April. This is one of those songs that stirred something deep within me on the first listen. The song overwhelms me with emotion and memories. I have cried many times, especially when Navy mentions his father, who passed away, not being able to see his grandchildren walk. That part stings. It reminds me that my grandmother, who was a second mother to me, will never be able to be a part of my kid’s lives if I choose to have kids. However, I can preserve and share her legacy by keeping her memory alive. Navy Blue reminds me of that. Back to the song. The beat is just one loop, but it’s impeccably chopped and gravely pretty. The bells shimmer and the vocal sample works in perfect harmony with the rest of the beat. The main vocal sample of the song, “don’t stop foolin’ yourself," perfectly fits how revealing the song is. I can’t really listen to the track without personal feelings or thoughts of certain loved ones bubbling to the surface when he raps these lyrics:

Like I ain’t want to live, the better me pursued life

Think twice before you really take your own life.

I know loved ones who have contemplated the exact ending that Navy Blue did. However, I thank whatever is out there that I can be in their presence. That I can see them preserve through what this hellish world throws at them. And most importantly, that they are alive. I am also grateful that Navy Blue decided to pursue this hell ridden journey. His presence and music make a difference in the lives of many, including my own.


Review:

When I listen to this album, I gain something new from it each time. This is one of those albums that I can’t wait to grow with. An album that I hope to understand as I age. The first track, Dreams of a Distant Journey, is backed by a hazy and psychedelic instrumental which lays the canvas for Navy Blue to rap the first bars of the album, expressing the paranoia he experiences as a black man in America. The song continues with an incredible verse reflecting on the loss of innocence, the passing of his father, and finding purpose. One of my favorite lines on the album resides in this song:

Look myself in the mirror, start tearing up as I reflect rearrange my meaning

We all go through rough patches where we diverge from the best parts of ourselves or who we are striving to be. However, we can change that course with the choices we make and I think this line characterizes that perfectly.

Loss is a big thematic thread throughout the whole album. Loss in the sense of witnessing loved ones being forced to vacate a lifelong home due to gentrification. The loss of innocence due to trauma at a young age. Loss in the sense of loved ones taking their final breaths. One of the most direct songs on the album that explicitly reflects on loss is Tired. The song begins with a sample from Boyz N’ the Hood in which Tre, one of the main characters of the film, reaches his breaking point. Similarly, this song represents Navy Blue’s breaking point. At the beginning of Navy’s first verse, line after line details loss:

Til the last day, my pops stay in the past

Glass frame break

Remember brother wake, it takes much more than I was given by the day, torched

Gentrifiers wave "Hi" my granny sitting on a porch

As the verse continues, Navy strings together a group of lines that uses the imagery of a bird to convey the danger he witnesses as he grows into independence and has “left the nest.” During this scheme, Navy expresses the danger that he feels within his own neighborhood. How in an instant, a white neighbor could call the police on him and the situation could go south at any moment. The production accentuates the anxiety and uneasiness of the lyrics by phasing in and out creating a trippy effect. The weight of the song is only amplified by Navy Blue’s delivery. You can hear in his voice all the loss he’s experienced. It’s a highlight from the album and a truly visceral song.

In another standout song, Certainty, Navy Blue collaborates with Maxo. They both give emotional verses over a truly beautiful beat that’s built around a haunting piano loop. What really stands out with this song is the little vignettes and imagery that Navy Blue and Maxo paint with their words. I love how Navy opens his verse:

When I look him in his face I know there's some things

Can’t serve your true self so I don't know what to say

Wasn't said but was felt, it last a couple of days

Navy Blue brilliantly illustrates those moments when we can’t properly express ourselves with words, but if the connection is true, we still know what’s being communicated. Another section of his verse focuses on the years lost to mental health struggles:

My depression, I'm the only one who made me sick

All in it, fell victim, my erasive years

These lines always hit me hard. I suffered from debilitating anxiety and chronic health issues for many years. I lost years to the mental and physical struggles I was facing. And truthfully, it took longer than it should have to put in the work to get better. Thankfully, I am doing better now. I commend Sage for being vulnerable and sharing those sets of lines. Many people know that unflinching grip of mental illness, but it’s hard to admit it out loud. By verbally communicating that sentiment, it lessens the stigma and is one of the reasons Navy Blue is an important artist to many. After revealing the consequences of his depression, he lays his ultimate goal which is achieving peace of mind. This album visits many dark places, but the grief and sorrow never sink Sage. There are still spots of light littered throughout the album helping grow seeds of hope. It really speaks to Sage as a person. The album exudes resilience. It takes enormous strength to search deep within yourself and confront pain and loss. Navy Blue exhibits this strength through intense introspection again and again.

If there’s one line that acts as the coda for Navy Blue as an artist it would be on the song, Alignment:

Now I know cause this is more to me than making music, this is therapeutic

In an interview with EricTheYoungGawd, Sage talked about how if he wasn’t releasing music publicly that he would still be making music as a form of self-expression, even if no one heard the music. When you listen to any of his music that becomes abundantly clear. He makes music for himself, and his writing is genuinely felt. He revisits places of pain and emerges scathed, but comes away with newfound acceptance. This is best represented in the song, Self Harm. Navy Blue delves deep beneath the surface of negative coping methods over an emotional vocal sample with delicate guitar licks interspersed throughout. As the song progresses, Navy Blue’s voice cracks, delivering lines about being vulnerable with loved ones, and not being able to keep promises. The last few lines of his verse are healing as he realizes that just like everyone else, he deserves to be still and at peace. When that day comes, his loved ones that watch over him will feel an overwhelming sense of pride. It’s truly a beautiful song and one of my personal favorite songs he’s written. We all understand the difficulty of obtaining peace. The whispers asking, “do you really deserve to be at peace?” And we really do. As Navy Blue says, “I deserve to be at peace, the decency reminds me.” To hear it so eloquently said is truly comforting.

If there’s one line that I want to hold onto from this album it’s:

Life a puzzle, find a piece in the oasis

This line stands out in the beautifully soulful, Sea Bass. I still can’t get over the perfect use of the vocal sample, “Is it in your heart? Let me be your sunshine.” From just this one line, you notice all the moments, memories, and people that are Sage's pieces of peace. The memories of his Aunt searing and frying chicken. Growing a garden with the love of your life. The intimate understanding that only exists between a parent and child. Reminiscing on simpler times with neighbors and friends. Mentoring and boosting the confidence of someone who is growing into themself. The connection that you can still share with someone who has left the physical plane. Cherishing the moments of peace. Knowing that you are in a better place than before. There truly are so many beautiful and life-affirming moments to be found in this album. No song embodies those life-affirming moments more than the song 224. I have no personal connection to Navy Blue, but hearing him at peace in this song always makes me emotional. These lines bring tears of joy to my eyes:

I can say I love myself, finally I love it here

I can say I love you too

Promise I don't live in fear no more

The journey from no foolin’ (post panic: prelude) to 224 is one of my favorite arcs I’ve had with music in a while.

Navy Blue and everyone who collaborated on this album took the feelings of pain, struggle, hope, and everything in between to craft an immensely special album. I applaud him for being vulnerable and speaking from the heart. I have loved seeing the reception that the album has earned, and the impact it's had on those who have connected with it. Song of Sage: Post Panic! has inspired me to take in those moments of elusive peace and to hold on to the things that ground me. I hope we all can find and hold onto those moments of peace.


Favorite Lyrics:

Tired

We need justice, it's just us

Praying to a God who don't hear us, they fear us

We hold the mere resemblance of a God

My eyes tearing, can't find a way to cheer me up

Light the herb, the devil's drink was in my sippy cup

We all disturbed, I frankly couldn't give a fuck

About you devils, hope you burn and wear a heart of cuts

Watch 'em bleeding rather slowly, never wish 'em luck Burn, burn

And all their ashes simply turn to dust

It don't matter, I'm just tryna hold my people up

I'm just tryna hold my people up

Self Harm

Through the haze of smoke lately, just being honest

That's why I cry in front my lady, blazing like a comet

Fear in loathing at its source I couldn't even promise

Breaking em, just hurt to know I flourish, treat me kindly

I deserve to be at peace, the decency remind me

At my core I'm just the same little boy touring

Angels rejoice when Sage reach the point on this timeline when grace is anointed

Time flying by, they greet me with appointments

1491

To delve home, missed it, all thе mischief I have carried around this hеllhole

Structure on the church lid, spire like I’m Melo

My family came from London off a road called Portobello

Parallel to Ladbroke Grove, I know the way it gets

When they stepping through a city well known with no regrets

Shoulders ain't for crying on when feelings intersect

I been feeling Baby Blue just like my father's cigarettes

Pressure Points

Photo with the folded arms, my brother charm infinite

Call my mom, call my pops, my little sister missing me

Day 55 smokeless, benign empathy

Divine christening, fortune child, I known the sky and all the stars vividly

Shoulder cries and when my poppa died, his spirit live with me

Everywhere I go, you are apart of all that interest me

Palms are open, pray to God she love me and he cherish me

My heart is like a pit, an open wound, I raise a cherry tree

224

Long trips around the beaming sun

Whatever come was planned I know, I know

I know you miss me like I miss you

More to me than bones and tissue

Gotta bleed to make it visceral

Flee from out the physical

Demons out to get you, they gon' get you if you let 'em

Breathe and soar to heaven, ain't no way I could forget 'em

Excavation of my treasure, transportation serves me better

Got no plans to beat myself up, if I do, I use a feather

On a scale of weighing heart, sacred bond when we together

Yeah, I'm glad found the light 'cause in my darkness I was tethered

Made my way from wrong to right, live this life for my ancestors


Discussion Questions:

  • Where does this rank amongst all of the sLUms releases?
  • What's your favorite Navy Blue project and why?
  • What helps you keep grounded or be at peace?
  • What was your favorite beat on the album?
  • How do you see Navy Blue's career progressing?
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