Ever so often, I’m motivated to do an album review…..well, really when I just have the time. I usually stray away from the flanks of mainstream Hip Hop albums because there’s not a lot of creative freedom and substance there. So I stick with the underground artists who are not caged by industry standards of musical composition.
Listeners, be advised that this work is sprinkled with explicit content. Not that you need to carry much concern because as oxymoronic as it may sound, these expletives are tastefully placed throughout the verses. This isn’t the 90’s gangsta rap that’s bubbling over the top with gunplay, drug connects, hood affiliations, and misogynistic rhetoric. But if you are cuss-word sensitive, proceed with strength and impartiality.
Senegalese Lyricist, Djiby Diagne packages a delicate rendition of his thoughts, aspirations, observations, and experiences in this 20-track compilation titled Retrospection; which is truly a 1-hour journal threaded with progressive Hip Hop beats. Djiby unsheathes his harmonizing skills unabashedly throughout, exclaiming a statement of versatility. He’s no Anthony Hamilton, but he packs some melodic prowess to back-up his lyrical dexterity. As a harmonizer myself, I can see that he’s still growing into his voice. The production is more in season of the progressive Hip Hop which excludes traditional scratching, includes a light sampling, and exudes the use of synthesized melodies. He borrows a couple of instrumentals from his favorite artists and gives his own spin as a means to pay tribute to the Hip Hop influentials. Djiby takes advantage of the moods that swim snuggly within the beat by carefully selecting content, emotion, and nonchalant cadence that are more complimentary than a breakfast in bed. Add in a blush of sound engineering (chops & screws, vocal distortions), and you have a colorful montage of the artist known as Djiby. What I can appreciate about this Pot-Pie of musical humanism is the moderation of ego-stroking. Every track isn’t a testament of how he’s the best, but the whole body poses as an honest demonstration to being young, ambitious, experimental, and in search for deeper meaning on his path to evolution.
The first dish for musical consumption is “Retrospection”, which has a chill mode-type of ambiance. And as he states in the chorus “Yea…this a whole ‘nother feeling// got me feeling like I’m way above the ceiling”. This track is a suitable jump off for what’s to come in the album. He provides intricate details about his relationship to his environment and his direction in life. He seems to affirm his role as the witty yet melodic captain of this flight. Then, there’s a smooth shift into “Hold Me Down” as he maintains the tempo and the vibe from the previous. This track capitalizes on his melees as a teen (including with ladies) and he even breaks into commentary from reporters and inquiring minds of the masses. The drum kicks like a Skateboarder in “I’m Not the Same”. He maintains intimacy with the audience as he relates his pasts, presence, and ambitions. In an eerie sorta way, the hook is quite infectious. I had this one on repeat for quite a few rotations; humming along because of the melody laced in the piano strokes was so complimentary. I was echoing “tomorrooooow….tomorroooow” throughout. Wily lines like “I remember not remembering what used to be happening” Stand Out like Wolverine’s Adamantium Claws; called for a rewind for added digestion. So far, Djiby has done a solid job in revealing who he is in the first 4 entrees. And now, cue the synths and electro-effects and “Visions” descends from the clouds maintaining the tempo of the previous. Traphique tag-teams the beat with Djiby catering high-quality lyricism and machine-gun delivery. If you’re looking for the conventional verse-chorus-verse-chorus rhyme structure, put it on the Milk Carton because it’s not here; and that’s actually a good thing. This display of artistic freedom is risqué, and often left unexplored in contemporary rap. Although this isn’t a competition, lyrically, Traphique held more gravity. It seems Djiby’s fashion sense extends to his selection of quality artists. So far, this is the most lyrically heavy track in the album. Now, we slow it down a little with “Smoking Mirrors” with LJ sharing the beat. This one is quite somber in setting, but it parallels the content as this vigorous duo exploits their disappointments with fake friends. Getting accustomed to Djiby’s smooth voice, he even gives a shout out to Allah hinting his religious affiliation while consequently playing on Tyler the Creator. LJ definitely holds his own insinuating brash emotion and a multi-syllabic cadence with his material.
And then we rest into a controversial interlude titled “Hoes and Money”. It comes off as a little chaotic with the blend of added sound effects, singing, and an overwhelming instrumental. Sonically speaking, it wasn’t pleasing to my ears, but it seems to be a necessary bridge between “Smoking Mirrors” into “L.O.L” (Love Over Lust). Djiby reels us in on his good judgment between gold-diggers and real women, and his views on each as he hums in the backdrop with tune.
Now, there is a large torso of this body of work that is conscious and bitterly positive in nature. Djiby reports the nature of the world without discounting himself, letting us know that he’s aware of his environment, and partially a product of it. And if you expected Jay-Z and Tupac to act as keynote speakers on this flight called Retrospection, then good for you! The God MC, although sampled, makes a guest appearance in the induction of “Hip Hop”. So we know that Mr. Carter is one of Djiby’s artistic influences. “Hip Hop” is an interpretive ballad about the state of Hip Hop. He throws a few daggers at the uncompromising ignorance that taints it (branching from corporate titans), and even rolls a few grenades in YMCMB’s direction, voicing the mantra of industry sales’ influence on the quality of Hip Hop music. Djiby preserves the conscious substance, and plants it in “221 State of Mind” which is coated with another electronic, ambient, chilly mood, and booming drum line. “Gotta make sure your attitude match you’re grind”, Djiby chimes in “The White Flag”, which carries the feel of a conscious revolution type of anthem. Out of all three, “The White Flag” resonates with me the most. The feel, the substance, and the organization are captivating.
And now we slow it down yet again with another interlude from yours, poetically, John Skywalker in “The Third Eye”. Djiby harmonizes in the backdrop while Mr. Skywalker delivers poetic dialogue about acknowledging one’s own ignorance and changing self. Yet this truly serves to bridge the gap between the need for a conscious revolution, and being infatuated and motivated by a woman. This brings us to “Drown your Sorrow”. This 1-min introduction was good, but the singing was not so fitting. I feel that he could’ve selected different notes to seep into the beat. Regardless, it was a sensible stage to launch into “Candles and Condoms” <<< That’s right! Sounds funny, but it’s really on the A/C tip as he opens up with “Baby, you’re autumn time fine, got me falling to your toes// Look at me, Chris Brown, eat you up, fine dine” If you haven’t guessed by now, this is an erotically charged track pumped with numerous sexual innuendos to arouse the lovers out there. And as funny as this is going to sound…I love “The Hate”. I’m not too partial to the drum kit because it seems recycled from some of the other songs. The chorus sticks to my conscience and Djiby did a good job in harmonizing along with the atmosphere of the angelic voice in the backdrop. This is essentially a breakup song as he hashes out wordplay-laced truths like “I like that she was blunt, so I’m smoking trying to forget her// Aint never sugar-coated, regardless she turned to bitter”. Hey, all relationship dynamics don’t have to last forever, right? Holding a grudge just slows you down. Another infectious chorus with some smooth harmonizing reels my ears in as “The Moment” enters the scene. I actually feel the mood of the beat – that doesn’t happen a lot. In this part of our flight, Djiby reverts to his old habits and maintains the pace when he transitions to “Devil in a New Dress” as it is sewn into the Kanye-crafted instrumental from My Beautiful, Dark, Twisted Fantasy. “The ocean’s empty, and now she’s the only fish” is a picture painted by Djiby, who is now seated in sorrow about his recent break-up. Regretful of how he didn’t take pictures in the moments to reminisce about and how excited the pain is within his heart, he wants to escape his travesties through parties, friends, and alcohol. This is apparently a cycle of love-wanderlust that Djiby is encased in as he ends it with “I’m an angel stuck with my old habits// She a devil in a new dress, so yes, I gotta have it”
“Locomotion” is a track that I’m not too pleased with because it’s part of the wave of music that’s currently permeating the Hip Hop radio stations. But these narrators are speaking about a type of female that’s charmed by sex, social status, and drugs. Djiby lightly drifts into a short story about a double-minded female whom would’ve ignored him if it weren’t for the influence that he carries. And advertising the theme of pill-popping and hoe-smashing, Kid JD carries a flow that’s similar to 2 Chainz, which kinda leaves me unimpressed. But he catered the topic very well, and held his own. MC Element, despite the content, was definitely charismatic and unpredictable in his approach. It was still enjoyable in combat with my preference. “The Vices” (homonym of “Devices”) is definitely turnt-up production-wise and lyrically. This track is drenching with braggadocio bravado, and the chorus that behaves as a mantra for an esteemed capitalist. This is definitely one of the more outstanding party tracks of the album. And trailing behind is “Peanuts to Elephants” with another guest star appearance from Kuwaiti-born, Cali Budd blazing, MC Element. This is another self-proclaiming track where both lyricists acknowledge their freedom to being themselves in the webs of duality – ignorant by choice, fearless of the consequences, but maintaining some sense of intelligence. I’m not a fan of the instrumental’s drum kit but the lyrical substance and the synths compensates for it. I’ve really been digging MC Element’s mic presence and the vigor behind his words throughout this compilation.
Nearing the conclusion of this flight, we reach “The Crossroads” featuring Guled. Djiby borrows the Roots-inspired “You Got Me” instrumental to convey a spiritually-doused message about salvation and guidance. Guled adds his own flavor to spice up the creativity in the song and make it a little irregular to those who may be stuck on the melody of the original. Props to how Guled ends it – good blend of highs and lows with the emotion. And now, this 1-hour journal closes with “The Love” featuring Angela Nethersole. This one is a little gloomy, but it still reeks of hope, self-discovery, and growth. Angela delivers a fantastic resonance in the chorus which leads into a Kanye influenced “18 years…18 years// and my 18th birthday, I lost touch with the real” by Djiby. That was quite profound as the rest of the track is a 4-min revelation of what life is all about….the love. I think this was a great way to end this work of art.
Overall, it’s definitely a worthy listen with a lot of songs worthy of repeating. Some of it is relatable to a large audience, and some of it isn’t. It’s a solid debut album that was consistent with a theme. I love how it was carefully arranged, and how the track titles and moods were stitched together sensibly. The instrumentals were very moody, which is good, but I think some of the drum kits were recycled too much for my pleasure (it’s only because I hear them a lot in today’s music) which strips away a little bit of originality. The sound engineering and vocal clarity was also up to par. Djiby rationed his features in a way that lets me know that he’s very resourceful as an artist. The album is about Djiby, but he was unafraid of allowing other artists to share his vision. Conceptually, I like that he’s religiously grounded, and in the process of an awakening, as that’s what the community of songs suggests. Undoubtedly, Djiby has made his mark in Hip Hop culture; maybe not on a popular scale, but he’s giving back a little of what Hip Hop has given to him. He’s not rapping for the fame, he’s rapping for the love. There’s a lot of room of growth in many things, and this debut album is a sign that Djiby is a true student of lyricism and art.