Sunday, November 14, 2010

Album Review: "The Salvation" - Skyzoo (2009)

INTRODUCTION

I've been giving you all a heavy dose of The Justus League the past couple of days (two Little Brother projects and one by Edgar Allen Floe), and I feel like continuing that trend.

Enter Skyzoo, one of the most promising young MCs in the hip-hop world. Skyzoo is a ridiculously good lyricist, providing his listeners with acutely reflective and ruminative tracks while injecting outstanding metaphors and punchlines, as well. He has put out numerous mixtapes, and it was in 2006 when he really broke through as an artist by releasing Cloud 9: The 3 Day High, a collaboration album with 9th Wonder, mirroring Murs' true introduction to the rap game when he released Murs 3:16 - The 9th Edition.

It was not until 2009, though, that Skyzoo released his debut solo album, The Salvation, which was easily one of the best projects that hit the shelves that year. A plethora of renowned and well-respected producers aided him on the record, including his boy 9th, Just Blaze, Black Milk, Illmind, and Nottz. You would guess just by looking at that glistening roster that the production on The Salvation is flawless, but we'll get to that later. When I examined that star-studded cast before I even began listening to Skyzoo's effort, I hoped I was in for a treat.

TRACK-BY-TRACK

1. The Opener

Let's just forget the fact that this cut has the most obvious name in the world and talk about how good it actually is. The song is five minutes and fifty-seven seconds long, but Skyzoo doesn't start to actually rap until the 2:09 mark, as the first two minutes and eight seconds contains a soft piano instrumental. "Waited on the long run, from the same places they all from, first name basis with the wrong one," spits Skyzoo early on in the track. Nice, smooth way to open things up. Cyrus Tha Great is on the beat, by the way.

2. Return Of The Real
This is the Just Blaze track, and it's one of the better ones on The Salvation. The contrast between this beat and that of the one on "The Opener" is discernible as soon as the cut begins, and that's not a bad thing, as variety is important on an album (unless you're Little Brother, in which case you can rap over 15 tracks of a pencil smacking a desk and make it sound good). "
The ceiling might move when I lift up to pen my cursive, they predictin' it will, so the hype is fittin' it's purpose." Did I mention that Skyzoo isn't half bad as a rapper?

3. The Beautiful Decay
That brings us to the first 9th Wonder-produced cut on the album, and while the beat itself is rather pedestrian (sorry 9th), Skyzoo puts forth one of his most impressive lyrical performances on The Salvation, and that's saying a lot. "In junior high I rocked Penny's, rolled dice, and threw on The Purple Tape before I would go and write, baptized in it clear as day, and that side of me came from the staircase."

4. My Interpretation
Of the several people I know that have listened to The Salvation, all of them tell me that "My Interpretation" is arguably the best track, where Skyzoo delves deep over a tremendously soulful beat produced by Best Kept Secret. "Easy for me, I mean, I follow the aroma, and the aura of what it might be is bringin' me closer, higher than I've ever been, caught it while catchin' it, and tryin' to keep it caught takes precedence, my interpretation." While this isn't my favorite record off of the album, it is certainly a powerful one.

5. Popularity
This is probably the most "commercial" track on the album, but commercial for Skyzoo is like underground for Lil Wayne. In other words, it's impossible for Skyzoo to sell out. While the theme of "Popularity" may seem contradictory to whom Skyzoo actually is (I mean, he really isn't popular at all), this is a damn good song. Nottz drops a strange but very effective beat, and Skyzoo does his thing. "
I took the line they was bitchin' 'bout, showed 'em all the ins and outs, tightrope walked it, I treat it likes it's in a drought," raps 'Zoo. While this isn't Skyzoo's best lyrical effort on The Salvation, this song is just oozing with swagger (which is appropriate given the song's name).

6. Like a Marathon
9th Wonder is back for his second beat on the album, and he laid out a crazy bassline for this one. Even if the production doesn't exactly fit the song's title, it still bangs, and Skyzoo goes in: "Every step taken is a step gained, or a step lost depending on how your step change, when you step on there's no returns or step aways, either step across or fall outta this step game." Good cut.

7. The Shooter's Soundtrack
One thing really stands out about this track: the hook. It is absolutely crazy, as the producer, Cyrus Tha Great, throws on some heavy cymbals and gunshots over the blaring horns. Unfortunately, though, outside of that sick hook, the rest of the beat is rather bland. Still, Skyzoo doesn't need a beat to rip it: "Shoulder the blame, strong enough to maybe hold it and aim, old enough to know the mechanics, like he knowin' his name, young enough to know he can handle it or so he proclaims, inspired to throw a hand in it and go with the grain."

8. Under Pressure
Skyzoo presents an incredible message in this song, as he is talking to his significant other whom he has encountered difficulties with. On this track, Skyzoo proves that he can carry a song without the benefit of a good beat (this beat by 9th is pretty underwhelming), something that all great MCs should have the ability to do. "I guess it was denial, I gave up the fight, hopin' you could downplay the down plays of my life," spits 'Zoo in his first verse. Later, he raps: "So it was all tug-o-war, missed calls replaced the rose petal-covered floors, Miss Wrong, you was right and you deserve different, and yeah I work different but know that my hurt isn't."

9. Penmanship

"Penmanship" is the lone Black Milk-produced joint on The Salvation, and that's pretty unfortunate, because Black Milk laid out a banger here, throwing in hard-hitting drums over an echoing, almost eerie beat. "Uh, write more than they could listen to, I jump down to dig a hole that they can listen through, I'm numb now 'cause all along what I'm givin' you, is more than you imagined any ballpoint pen could do," boasts Skyzoo as he states how he is a separate entity in the rap game, and really, he is.

10. Dear Whoever
Illmind is on the boards here as Skyzoo displays his genius on this track. After listening to the first verse, it isn't clear who 'Zoo is talking to (God? Himself?), but in the second and final verse, Skyzoo makes it known that he was in fact conversing with his own notebook, and if you closely examine the lyrics early on, you will think, "Ohhhh." For example: "Said that you would help me make sense of it all, and we would never censor our talks, I assumed your attention was a sign of how you cared, see with you, I was different, I ain't try to hide fear." I honestly thought he was talking to God at first, but then I got to the end of the track and heard this: "At the end of the day, dear notebook, thanks for all the listens." Once again, 'Zoo is a genius.

11. For What It's Worth
A producer named Eric G lays down the beat here, and while it sounds alright, it is too similar to the rest of the album. Skyzoo puts down some nice lines (when doesn't he?), but I just feel like I've heard this before throughout the rest of The Salvation.

12. The Necessary Evils
Needlz, who is most known for his work with 50 Cent and G-Unit, drops a heck of a beat here, and Skyzoo opens up the track with: "Survival of the fittest, posted where it's probable for pitchin', and suicide doors is the object of the mission, you either outdoors like 'I got it, come and get it,' or stirrin' upstairs with a stop-watch in the kitchen." This beat will just make you zone out, and Skyzoo kills the hook. This deserves heavy rotation on any music player.

13. Easy To Fly
This is the fourth of five 9th Wonder productions on The Salvation, and it isn't very good. Not even Skyzoo's ridiculous rapping ability can save this track from being a snoozer.

14. Bottom Line
Eric G gets another chance here, and this time, he kills it, putting down one of the album's best productions for Skyzoo to rip. Not only is the beat hot, but the hook is ill, too: "The bottom line is, line is, gettin' it is nothin' when you grindin', grindin'." Griminess seeps through "Bottom Line," and that's a good thing. This is definitely one of The Salvation's best tracks.

15. Metal Hearts
I'm going to be painfully honest and admit that, overall, 9th Wonder really dropped the ball on this album. "Like a Marathon" was really the only noteworthy beat he laid down for Skyzoo. "The Beautiful Decay" was maybe slightly above average, "Easy To Fly" wasn't very good at all, and "Metal Hearts" just sounds half-assed; it doesn't even have that trademark soulful 9th Wonder sound to it. If only he gave Skyzoo the types of beats he has given Little Brother over the years, because, let's face it; as big of a Little Brother fan as you might be, you have to concede that Skyzoo is clearly a more gifted MC than both Rapper Big Pooh and Phonte.

16. Maintain
Unlike 9th Wonder, Nottz brought his "A" game for The Salvation, first dropping the beat for "Popularity" and then laying out the soulful piano production that would become "Maintain," the best song on the album. Skyzoo does his best work here, first spitting: "Time flies when you starin' at the stars, but time dies when you clear away your heart, and fuck seein' facades, none of that is payin', neither is complainin', just thank God you made it." He then puts together some of the best lines of 2009 in his second and final verse: "Sittin' on a stoop, starin' up at God everyday, but I felt like I was talkin' to someone who couldn't hear me, until I looked up and saw that the one near me, who was lookin' for advice was in common, I just wasn't lookin' at 'em right and his problems, was similar, too similar, way too familiar, lookin' into his eyes, was lookin' into a mirror, tryin' not to break it, along with who I be, saw that the whole time I was arguing with me." This is one of the only times I will ever write that many lines from an artist here, but Skyzoo was so on point that I just had to include it all. What an outstanding way to end The Salvation.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Skyzoo is an astonishingly talented rapper. What I like most about him is that he raps about things that we can all relate to, and when I say "all," I mean all. I emphasize that because people say the same thing about Eminem, but come on; how many people can relate to wanting to slit their wife's throat and dump her in a lake in front of their daughter (and if you do, you should probably be reading up on the nearest psychiatric ward instead of reading this blog)?

Skyzoo talks about situations and circumstances that everyone on the planet experiences at some point, and that's not something all artists can do. For example, I recently reviewed Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.... It is obviously an authentic album by an authentic artist, but I hate to disappoint Raekwon; I am not out hustling in the streets and trying to survive by the skin of my teeth. Do I enjoy his music telling the tales of it? Sure, but I listen to it for just that; pure enjoyment. Skyzoo is one of those artists who you can listen to for both enjoyment and to discover common ground. Also, call me a wuss if you want, but I love when a rapper can get their point across without cursing too much, and Skyzoo does that on this album, keeping the expletives to a minimum.

The Salvation is certainly one of the best albums of 2009 and, in my opinion, one of the most impressive debut rap records of all-time. Lyrically, this project can match up with virtually anything out there that's not by Canibus, Pharoahe Monch, or Chino XL; it's that good. 'Zoo's ability to write deep and thought-provoking lines is simply unrivaled by most.

The only complaint that I have about The Salvation, again, is 9th Wonder's seemingly lazy production. I really wish Khrysis would have produced at least one record for the album.

TOP FIVE TRACKS

1. Maintain
2. Bottom Line
3. The Necessary Evils
4. Popularity
5. Dear Whoever

SKIPPABLE TRACKS

Easy To Fly

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