‘Mediocrity breeds mediocrity’ is a saying that usually applies to those who like to toot their own horn. For example, in most instances anyone who says that they have just released one of the albums of the year, usually has no business making such statements, regardless of the numbers (or lack of them in some cases) said album produces. Those whose material consistently reaches such heights that others use it as a measure for their contemporaries, tend to let others do the talking for them. Which is precisely what I am doing right now for Gregory Skyler Taylor.
My original intention was to ‘simply’ highlight his latest superb effort, Music For My Friends. A long player that manages to stay true to, be consistent with and surpass his previous work all at the same time. But such is the level of consistency across all of his studio albums and such is the lack of a response from anyone outside of those in the know, that the only way I feel able to do the man justice is to cast a torch over all of them.
Having taken only three days to record it was entirely possible that Sky’s initial rise to the upper reaches of ‘underground’ prominence would be swallowed up by those of us who were utterly mesmerised by our own 9th Wonder ‘Geekdom’ (and yes that includes me). But once the initial furore subsided we were all left praising the flow, intricacy, layered storytelling and honesty on show. The battle between the man that Sky wanted to be and the man he used to be showcased on Stop Fooling Yourself betrays a man who refuses to waste his talent on typical run-of-the-mill bouts of uber materialism.
“You can be lyrical without preaching. You don’t want to be one of those rappers who are also labeled as a disgruntled rapper.”
These skills and concepts are taken to even greater levels on his studio debut, The Salvation, an album that sees the man behind it placing emotionally explorative layers upon clever rhymes concepts and placing those over more deeply truthful layers. I am not ashamed to say that it took 3 or 4 listens to some of Sky’s rhymes to fully comprehend what was being said. Some of the rhyme concepts on view are sublimely packaged and the man himself readily admits that there are things he said on The Salvation that he hadn’t told his own family.
“There are so many songs that went over people’s heads and that’s the only thing that bothered me a little bit. I have a theory called the five year plan. They won’t get the album mentally until five years later.”
By the time Sky uncoupled the harness on A Dream Deferred, most of us fans should have been about halfway towards comprehensively understanding its predecessor. The problem is that most of us, although not as fickle as some, still let that trait shine through when faced with a sequel that is in every way superior. The Salvation proved that Skyzoo had an ear for great beats but when you compare both track-lists it was clear that all involved had upped the ante. Many of the same beatsmiths from the first outing were on show but they had all honed their craft. Sky’s flow was still the same but he had sharpened his delivery and his sometimes cryptic insights were taken to a new level. Both projects had a similar vibe but their was more cohesion the second time around. Plus with beat selections like the (almost) Dubstep bass line driven Give It Up, Sky showed a flair for the unexpected.
“People listen to the music and everyday they say you’ve raised the bar for everyone around you but I feel like I’ve raised the bar for myself…. When I make music tomorrow I want it to be better than the music I made today.”
These creative juices were taken a step further with the concept Theo vs JJ mixtape, the sublime live instrumentation of the Band Practice series and Sky’s retelling of Jay Z’s Reasonable Doubt. The latter is a quite superb piece of work that deserved an awful lot more attention that is actually garnered. I suspect that even putting together such a luscious backdrop for the latter, Antman Wonder is being criminally undervalued by folks looking for more substance with their beat choices. I am reminded somewhat, of Ghostface Killah with regards to Skyzoo’s beat selection. They both don’t give a damn about the name behind the beat as long as it is fit for purpose and their tastes do overlap in part. Then there is the shared knack of consistently making top notch choices. This however, in its own way sheds light on that age old commercial weakness of not catering for all comers.
The beats chosen, while varying from smooth Jazz vibes to neck snappingly nice, are not for the uninitiated. The double and at times triple entendres intertwined in his rhymes are not meant for club orientated ears. This would make it easy to disregard Sky as just another above average MC but perceptions can change with the right exposure, just ask Rapsody. He will continue to churn out superb albums such as his latest offering, Music For My Friends, until he decides to call time on his microphone dominated adventures but for me this go round is far more worthy of more.
Conceptually, MFMF is a message of togetherness and camaraderie spliced into 15 substantive tracks (plus 2 bonuses). There is a subtle evolution in evidence that is taking place here. I go back to his beat choices first. The formula, as I said, is tried and tested but the parameters are widened with each album. The results are session like headnods…. melodius headnods…. classy headnods. That sophistication is more than matched by the ‘smart but still street’ mantra of Skyzoo’s delivery throughout. Unlike some out there you can tell he has seen everything he says and it will take a few listens to take it all in. The branded co-stars are also well judged. They are perfectly matched to the tracks they accompany and their verses are technically superb (but what else are we to expect from Jadakiss and the genius that is Black Thought). From start to finish Music For My Friends is ridiculously polished. But this is to be expected from a man that performed the whole album at the Blue Note jazz club backed by a six piece band.
Yet taking this latest and his past studio work into account, whatever the legacy he leaves behind, I suspect that no matter what he will not alter his formula for anything or anyone. I believe this, and this alone, will ultimately be the reason why you will only read about Gregory Taylor’s musical exploits if they are written by people who look beyond the surface to see what lies beneath. That doesn’t change the fact that those exploits deserve a lot more exposure. It’s just a shame that unless that ‘Rapsody moment’ makes an appearance, it probably won’t happen.