2020 was a sobering year in many ways. Politics corrupt, societies divided and a deadly pandemic that has forced the world to come to a standstill. It’s been the first year I’ve personally experienced in my 25 years that has felt eerily dystopian. So many people are suffering and will unfortunately keep suffering in what I think collectively we can agree is a darker moment in history. Yet, amidst all of this, there is a light that keeps shining, that of the plethora of talented artists that are pouring their hearts out, whether on record, on a painting, in a novel or on film. All the incredible art that has come out recently has helped heal the sorrows and difficulties of our lives, and one such artist blessed the world with an album that is potent in its message and flawless in its execution. Navy Blue has never shied away from vulnerability. The New York-based artist has released poetic and atmospheric music for a few years now, drawing inspiration from his contemporaries and his own experiences. His earlier 2020 release Àdá Irin was a beautiful moment in his discography, a detailed and captivating body of work that captured Sage’s soulful aura, speaking from his heart on his own state of mind and the world finds himself in. Fast-forward to December 2020, Navy Blue blessed the world with a new album titled Song of Sage: Post Panic! Beyond just music, it seems like he’s grown as a man, and I say that because it’s reflected poetically and delicately in some of the themes and lyrics within his new project. The beautiful marriage of introspective raps and potent and ethereal production makes this a truly special listen.
On the opener “Dreams of a Distant Journey”, Navy Blue reflects on the growth he’s experienced over the years, stating: “Trust, I had to grow quicker than most / Sound definite, definitely heaven sent / Horns blazing, only some forget the sunken ships / I often reminisce, what spirit guides a calm regret? / Look myself in the mirror, start tearing up as I reflect / I rearrange my meaning / December days, I recollect, I reconnect through dreaming”. His poetry in general tends to come from a place of hope, not despair, as he floats on beat with words of encouragement and empowerment. Always relating back to his ancestors and the African Diaspora as a whole, his messages tend to be buoyant yet reflective and incredibly introspective. There are moments on the album that sound heavy, as if he’s about to cry. His ability to create moody, reflective and relatable stories and feelings through his raps is what makes this release such a mesmeric one. And the heaviness of his words can really be felt through the soft intonation of his voice and his ability to truly create something from the heart. The Roper Williams-produced “Self Harm” is an example of this, as he proclaims the following: “I’m left lost, left last to figure out what I saw / See me December with my flaws laid out / Gotta chant, cause most of my memories in a vault / Searching for some peace, I held it all along / All this weakness cannot measure, I’m at fault / Hairdresser dawn with feathers of a harp.” His vulnerabilities shine through on his new album, talking with a sombre mind, with a sense of peace and deeper inner reflection. On the Animoss-produced “Breathe” featuring the legend Yasiin Bey, he pays tribute to his father – “Papa on a mantle / The warmth of his smile bring tears to my eyes / The war of a long life, cry if you gotta / Most the trauma tied to my father”. The relationship between Sage’s identity, his family and the diaspora around him makes his music sound almost prophetic, with an ethereal tone and soundscape that complements his introspective and soulful aura of his music. “Moment Hung” is another heavy moment, a moment of self-reflection and vulnerability, as he touches on the struggles of Black people in the US and around the world – “They killing sons and babies and mothers / They kill our fathers, our aunties and uncles / They killing us blind but notice our color / They televise the demise of our brothers / They televise the demise of our sisters, shit got me livid / I need a moment to gather my spirit, much more than lyrics / Speak to the chosen, nothing left but a family broken”. His extended family of black folk suffering in the hands of police and the wider issue of institutional racism brings his heart a heaviness he simply can’t ignore, and that strong relationship with the people around him is bonded by love, humanity and culture.
This strong intertwined relationship Sage has with the people around him is what makes Song of Sage: Post Panic! such an essential listen. “I live this life for my ancestors” he proclaims on the beautiful closer “224”. Considering the profoundly difficult struggles his ancestors went through to survive, this statement is powerful and inspiring, as he channels his creativity within the realm of music, speaking truth to power, using his poetry to give words profound meaning and a touch of soul that is irreplaceable and essential to the betterment of his people. Timeless poetry on some of the best produced music of 2020, Song of Sage: Post Panic! is a warm yet revealing album, and that’s what makes it one of the best pieces of music to come out in the last few years.