Through the parallels that rap music strikes to a city, it is impossible not to draw two lines between New York City and this lo-fi styling of poetry that has sprung out of artists like Medhane, MIKE, Mavi, and Navy Blue. All artists that have had run-ins with each other and can live in the same housing, but phonetically craft a level of excellence that is nearly unthinkable to match from anywhere in the world.
Like many of the youth that accompanies the marksmanship of New York City, Sage Elsesser lives under many hats. From being a skateboarder, producer, model, and musical artist, Elsesser or Navy Blue burns brightly as a beacon with his debut record, Àdá Irin. A translation from the Hausa language in the northwestern sections of Nigeria and southern Niger which roughly means, “iron ore,” gives a balance to the record. While it never truly hits like a piece of iron, the materials here are raw like ore and is a stage for Navy Blue to smith upon.
He opens with an instrumental that is gentle and calming through these therapeutic piano chords that belong more in a cathedral than any loose hip-hop record. If the record could even really be considered hip-hop as most of Navy Blue’s delivery is more associated with spoken word over these instrumentals that are more often than not, a spectacle from each transition. Even before he decides to speak, “Twenty” just washes over the listener in a cleansing rebirth as a formal introduction.
Àdá Irin gives more than the record takes, acting “With Sage” to become the first glimpse of vocal tone to Navy Blue. He begins with production from himself, Preservation, and Rago Foot to essentially set the table for a homecooked and comfortable meal. With the choruses in the backing that gives life to a more stoned-sounding narrator, Navy Blue is not lost or directionless but feels to linger on the sense of adventuring through manipulation on sound. A production switch in the middle of “With Sage” allows for samples to describe a story and while it is too modulated to hear at points, Àdá Irin is a fairly clear record.
On a later piece, “22!” is the closest thing to a straight forward approach toward hip-hop with an 808 that bumps underneath these rattling hi-hat clasps as Navy Blue searches for his own flow. He describes, “Demons on my Achilles, I give more than I am given, god willing… nothing is done, no I burn a couple spliffs, let me down easy. Know the team like 100-thick, spirit bless me with the soul, she told me cherish it, cherish it.” While deciphering the lyrics can be difficult through the record, when the mire is wiped away there is something truly captivating behind the wordplay that leaves surprises to be discovered even after the record has been spun through daily cycles.
And like most beautiful creations, age is a test that will be the biggest factor for Navy Blue. As his progression has shown through multiple releases, collaborations, and an incredibly bright future not just musically, it is enthralling to sit behind the control center and see just exactly where he wants to float to.