From the river of smooth jazz pouring through the majority of Skyzoo’s new material that brings back to the mind of the entrancing melodies of Nas’ timeless album, Illmatic, from 1994 (or Mr. Jones second LP, 1996’s It was Written, where Skyzoo sings the hook of “Street Dreams” from near the ending of the fantastic and cerebral fourteenth track :”Things I Should’ve Told my Friends”), to the French horns blaring over belligerent beats of the head-nodding and funky second track, “Suicide Doors”, and the foresight to see an entire fifteen track album as not a collection of songs but as cinematic lyricism, a movie on wax: Skyzoo has given us something truly rare with his third studio album Music For My Friends. As can be easily discerned from the title the story underneath the wonderfully old school, early 90’s use of varied instruments and a general style that effortlessly harps back to albums from The Roots (on the excellent mid-album track, “Money Makes us Happy”, it almost seems like a natural progression that he would do a verse with one of the lead MCs from the aforementioned group: Black Thought, and they sound terrific together as they exchange introspective, deep rhymes) during that time, the Crown Heights MC shows the timelessness and sentimental illumination, the ability for music to transport you to a more youthful age and it is also a smart way to play out a record about the good and the bad times with his friends from the neighborhood he grew up in and bring about the intended effect of reminiscence and nostalgia that the album so easily clings to. We all have similar stories of a group of close acquaintances that got us through the tribulations of childhood and Skyzoo knows it and uses this content as a way to relate to the audience. It makes the poetic verses and soothing melodies on display in Music for my Friends all the more special and intimate.
This warmth expressed in the album’s opening moments goes through ups and downs and the tone, pitch and beat always reflect it beautifully. As soon as we push ‘play’ Skyzoo specifically outlines the LPs thesis statement in “All Day, Always”. From here he goes on to give us a comprehensive description of the events of his block and the title support system that is a perfect way to start an album with a concept such as the one Gregory Skyler Tayler has given us with Music for My friends because we immediately relate and see the world through his perspective. The third track, “The Moments that Matter”, expresses the aggression that comes with this camaraderie as Skyzoo kicks intellectual, thought-provoking verses about how society and some of his homies looked at him as a youth and is punctuated by a beautiful hook that is hauntingly sung by Kay Cola. “Luxury” is a decidedly more new school and antagonistic in tone song proceeds this and it not only showcases how well he can blend genre types and musical stylings but how terrific and how effortlessly his verbal delivery conforms to two wholly different pitches and attitudes.
Skyzoo’s often sentimentally shifting viewpoint focuses sharply songs of trying to make money and avoid prison by selling everything they can like “Everything’ for Sale”, which is backed by another early 90’s beat which sounds like it was taken from Dr. Dre’s The Chronic LP from 1992 or “See a Key” (featuring a great verse from Jadakiss) which continues the idea brought forth in “Everything’s for Sale” by extending the topic of transactions to drugs and other illegal substances. This subject is further developed in the thirteenth track, “Asking Bodie for a Package”, which is a tremendous example of his meticulous, like watching a movie in your mind, story-telling abilities which continues the idea by extending it to drugs.
Sadly, it often charts uncomfortable, and unnecessary, territory such as on the sexist opus of stereotypical masculinity “Women Who Can Cook”. This is the ninth track and though the repetition in the hook is catchy and the beat continues the incredible production, highly lyrical and mind expanding level of lyricism on display throughout it would be foolish to not see it as an expression of a group of young men daydreaming about who they will end up and their qualities instead of how offensive the content obviously is. In that manner it fits in the context of the concept conveyed herein and gives us a heightened glimpse into Skyzoo and his male friends’ minds at the time so it can’t be said that it is extraneous and, admittedly, it is a thoroughly enjoyable track.
“Civilized Leisure”, which comes after “Women Who Can Cook”, goes back to the jazzy impression and proves a much better experience than the previous piece of music. Skyzoo’s fascination with harmony and mood-setting melodies is most noteworthy in “Meadow of Trust”. This is pure soul as it abandons its Rap oriented nature and lets Saba deliver beautiful, relaxing and powerful vocals over calming instrumentation. It’s a welcome departure from the overall impression Skyzoo was setting up beforehand and it adds an element of variety in atmosphere and style that is much appreciated.
Skyzoo ends the album on a show-stopping note where he talks about the one item such a record with a conception such as Music for My friends was touched on in the honest, touching and gentle eighth track, “Playing Favorites”, but most of the LP seemed to be missing: falling in love. If the other songs touch on a nostalgic impression we can all relate to this glorious, enchanting show-stopper embraces it with open arms. It’s reminiscent of a Talib Kweli take on the subject (“Won’t You Stay” from 2002’s Quality comes immediately to mind) and its laid back lyrics and smoothly delivered vocals on and off the hook, Kay Cola again re-unites with Skyzoo to bless our ears with her incredible voice. This is a phenomenal finale and it is made all the more conclusive and haunting by a skit at the end which gives us a street rendition of the child’s tale: Goodnight Moon.
Music for My Friends is a largely impressive work. By using old school melodies to help evoke feelings we can all relate to, knowing when to wear his emotions on his sleeve, when to hide it behind coy melodies there is no way we, as an audience, can’t help but relate and know what he is going through. Though some of the material may not be agreeable it is his experience and it should not be criticized but embraced for giving us a more thorough picture of the album’s concept. Skyzoo brings to mind Hip Hop’s past greats and if he continues to give us material like that which is held in “Music for My friends” and focusing on concept LPs and presenting us movies on wax as he does here he shall have no trouble being universally embraced as the legend we can hear calling him in his voice. For true Hip Hop heads or those just beginning to listen to the genre: this album is well worth your time and may held school some on what makes Rap the greatest of all musical genres.