Skyzoo’s fourth proper solo album, In Celebration Of Us, continues his win streak of fully realized collections where effortless virtuosic lyricism and dynamic sounds blend effortlessly.
His past albums were always autobiographical. They explored his childhood, which lingered somewhere between the Huxtables of The Cosby Show and the Evanses of Good Times. (Firmly established through his brilliant 2012 EP, Theo vs. J.J. (Dreams vs. Reality).)
In Celebration Of Us is a tad different. Here, the Brooklyn MC unspools observations culled from his upbringing but also offers up more social commentary than ever, touching on police brutality, gentrification and cultural appropriation, among other things. It straddles the line between the gritty and urbane, like Brooklyn in the 2010s. Plus, some tracks on here are so tough they might compel you to make the “stink face.”
Such is the case with the lead single, “Baker’s Dozen,” which features Raheem DeVaughn. Past album co-collaborator Apollo Brown supplies a hard, driving piano loop for Skyzoo to offer up his thoughts about the corner in the midst of upheaval. DeVaughn’s hook, “Bake the Cake, bake the cake, bake the cake, cut a piece…” is infectious.
!llmind, another past album co-collaborator, composes the vintage “Crown Holder,” which harkens back to 90s jazz-rap and finds Skyzoo, as always, firmly in pocket. But the urgency picks up on Tuamie’s “Heirlooms & Accessories,” which not coincidentally, is also the name of the Kerry James Marshall photographic exhibit about lynching and violence. A gorgeous soundscape gives way to a melancholic piano loop as Skyzoo delves deeper into the tenuous state of black life in America.
In light of the recent H&M controversy involving a black child model wearing a “coolest monkey in the jungle” hoodie, “Black Sambo” feels like an appropriate rebuttal, for he revealed that In Celebration Of Us is a cautionary tale for his son, of what it means to be a young, black male growing up in hostile environs.
Other highlights include Marc Nfinit’s “Forever In A Day,” a dulcet experience and “Parks & Recreation” simply shimmers. Saba Abraha’s lovely chorus on the latter feels like summer in Prospect Park when the sun kisses your skin. (You may have to be from Brooklyn to fully comprehend that).
As a hearty, hearty offering, In Celebration Of Us’ dense rhymes and nuanced sonics sacrifice accessibility on occasion. The spoken word interlude — “Remembering The Rest” alongside Words & Curves — feels out of place even as a set up for the coinciding record “The Purpose.” Given the ever-evolving landscape of the culture in contrast to Skyzoo’s traditional ethos, the project will likely get passed over in bigger conversations of Hip Hop’s elite.
But hey, Skyzoo knows his audience and those loyal listeners will understand that In Celebration Of Us isn’t a grab bag of songs. Rather, it strives to be an artistic statement and its full grandeur is unveiled only through repeated listens (capable attention spans withstanding).
It’s music to reflect a violent, racist, fearful, hopeful, exultant, expectant and glorious era. Rejoice.