It’s just another Friday in the dystopian winter, but Skyzoo is celebrating life, having just welcomed his newborn son into the world. Since his mixtape peddling days in the early 2000s, the Brooklyn native and underground staple has always made music that reads as a letter from the heart. His latest solo album, In Celebration of Us, is no different.
In Celebration Of Us is part memoir, part blueprint. As Skyzoo recounts his father’s wins and losses as a patriarch, he simultaneously lays out a path for himself and his newborn son. Much like James Baldwin’s letter to his nephew in The Fire Next Time, Sky describes the unending string of injustices that the Black man faces in America, and much like Baldwin, he insists that the strength of Black love and community are the keys to survival.
In that breath, this is an album obsessed with cycles, thematically as well as sonically. With production from !llmind, Apollo Brown, Marc Nfinit and more, Sky takes New York’s classic sound and makes it the life of the party. His delivery has been fine-tuned for this project; Sky is a machine when the beat switches on “Heirlooms and Accessories,” and even more so on the off-the-wall “Black Sambo.” The dark, rich grooves on “Baker’s Dozen” replicate the rickets of a late-night ride on the L train. By contrast, “Parks & Recreation” is lush and meditative, like an acid trip in a grassy field.
Though it’s billed as a concept album, the record is not pedantic, nor does it risk sacrificing quality to work as one long poem. Cohesion comes in waves. The album’s first skit is told from the perspective of Skyzoo’s father, vowing to get out of the streets and set a good example for his soon-to-be-born son. Consequently, the final monologue features Sky recounting his childhood and all of the ways in which his father and mother succeeded in raising him. The approach is novel-esque, but far from obtuse, due in heavy part to Skyzoo being as compelling a speaker as he is a rapper.
Yet when an album is so lovingly stitched together, with each skit and topic weaving into the next, the rough transitions stick out and sap the record of its magic. Moving from the wax poetics of the “Remembering the Rest” interlude to the velvety sax lines on “The Purpose” is seamless. But once we get to “Love Is Love,” we’re jarred by the sudden shift to a dustier, grainier, and drabber soundscape. Isolated, the track is enjoyable, but in the context of the complete work, it’s a sharp tack in the road.
Despite lengthy skits and that beautiful spoken passage on the final track, “Honor Amongst Thieves,” Skyzoo wastes no words or time on In Celebration of Us. He is as precise a writer as he is a freestyler, as he is a gifted storyteller. His delivery is poised and bouncy, and unexpectedly chipper for the stylings of boom bap. Though his content is often grave, touching on the many facets of systemic Black oppression, community infighting, and Black boyhood, Skyzoo never loses his zeal for life and for music.
Therein lies the true strength of In Celebration of Us: the record summons up an excitement to live another day. There is something wholly fulfilling in hearing a grown man proudly declare he spent his youth wanting to be a rapper by day and Spider-Man by night.
In an era where bad news trumps good, and the next tragedy is constantly weighing on our minds, an album that can recapture the simple pleasure of being alive while remaining socially aware is a rare and special thing. In Celebration of Us should be treasured as such.
Three Standout Tracks
“Baker’s Dozen” ft. Raheem Devaughn
Apollo Brown nails this beat. “Baker’s Dozen” captures the measured terror of a mean and menacing New York hustler, while the vocals are a heavenly counterforce. Altogether, this track is a clinic in sticking to your roots while consistently putting out full-bodied and fresh-sounding tunes.
The piano line, the horns, the acute percussion, and the breathy cantering delivery on the hook all work to make this song perfect head-bobbing material. All praise to the producer, !llmind. While the majority of the album has a seriously sociological bent, “Crown Holder” is a moment for Skyzoo to relax and give himself a well-earned pat on the back as an MC.
“Black Sambo” will stop you in your tracks. Skyzoo’s delivery has all the swagger of Reasonable Doubt-era JAY-Z, and reverberates nicely over the elastic !llmind-produced beat. This track is a rumination on intention, dark motive, and government corruption, and could easily double as Skyzoo’s 2018 club banger.