Somewhere in an alternate universe, Detroit beat-maker Apollo Brown and East Coast emcee Skyzoo's The Easy Truth (Mello Music Group) is being celebrated as the best hip-hop album of 2016.
Oh, I know what you're thinking: "What the what?" or perhaps, "Who the who?" But this is neither satire nor smoke and mirrors. The Easy Truth is a five-star gem that has all the GIBBSS (grit, inspiration, beats, bars, substance, and sincerity) in all the right places.
Now for the record, we've been here before. Royce da 5'9 and DJ Premier (PRhyme) set the bar high when it comes to collaborative efforts between the Big Axel and Big Apple. This time, the roles are reversed, as we have Motor City producer Brown and Brooklynite emcee Skyzoo showing they're equal to the task. It's not surprising; Apollo's work with Planet Asia, Ras Kass, Guilty Simpson, Big Pooh, Red Pill, and O.C. are each enough to put him in the category of one of the top three producers in Detroit. To be blunt, he's producing some of the best tracks in the game.
The album begins with "Soapbox," a 49-second monologue from motivational speaker extraordinaire Les Brown about the positive molding that happens when you go through hard situations. The whole "going through shit" undertone plays through Skyzoo's lyrics throughout the entire album. "It's just what we wanted to get what we wanted and sit on the numbers/ Doors off like the winter's the summer/ And put a check on rewind where recollecting is fine/ Tryna loop it like if we forgot to signal the drummer," he raps in the lyrical "Jordan's and a Gold Chain."
Track two, "One in the Same," is easily the best cut on the album. Guest hook singer Patty Crash sounds similar to Chrisette Michele, while Brown's subtle piano sample gives the track a Jay Z "Dead Presidents" vibe. The addition of Skyzoo's bars make it definitive, "Pardon me G-O, I'm a Capricorn with tendencies bordering Leo/ I was told that I would be Birdie but wanted to be Theo/ I was 12 falling asleep to the thought of a kilo/ I was 12 in advanced classes as bored as a free throw."
Brown uses a sweet Smokey Robinson sample for "The Flyest Essence," "The Vibes" has a perfect '90s bounce, and the clever "Basquait on the Draw" has the catchiest hook; "It sounds like Basquiat on the draw/ The price tag got Kukoc range/ The loop so straight/ All of this can flip from the door/ It's outlines on whatever you want/ It's Basquiat on the draw."
Skyzoo and Brown have a Pete Rock/CL Smooth-type chemistry in that none of the songs sound forced. "Spoils to the Victor" is a head-nodder; Skyzoo hunts for honeys on "Visionary Riches"; and "They Parked a Bentley on the Corner" is a smooth jazzy cut with street-life rhymes (just think of Nas' verse on Mob Deep's "Eye for and Eye" on some smooth shit.) "A Couple Dollars" is one of the strongest cuts on the album. Joell Ortiz joins to Skyzoo as they talk finding a new course within the rigid and criminal environments they once dwelled in. "In love with a mattress that was somewhat outta place/ Where due to old habits it can double as a Chase/ Talkin' major key, let it cut you out a case/ And tryna/ run the city 'til it run you outta state," raps Skyzoo.
"Innocent Ambition" is one of the last cuts on The Easy Truth and that inspirational undertone is front and center. The lyrics center around there being a better way to thrive whether it's street hustling or music; it's about always trying to reach for that higher level.
The Easy Truth is for old-school hip-hop heads and new-school hip-hop heads alike. It's an ideal album to throw at the folks who constantly ask, "Where is the real hip-hop at?" The release is a compositional lesson on how street shit can sound soulful, how the grit can be inspirational.
Maybe it's not the single best overall hip-hop album to drop in 2016, but you won't find a collaborative album any better, anywhere.