“I wrote and I wrote because no one else spoke, no judge, no jury, just purely how it goes, and from the go I was who I am, the story’s been one and the same, just the way that you turn that page may have changed, long time coming since Chris or Shawn or Nasir or Corey or Brad first started to go, figured I’d do my part and draw up a path, and let it unfold.” – Skyzoo, “How to Make it Through Hysteria”
Channeling his inner Langston Hughes (or Wale), Skyzoo’s poem from “How to Make it Through Hysteria” is a window into Skyzoo’s frame of mind during the creation of A Dream Deferred. He has an obligation, nay, a passion for making music that contributes to hip-hop’s rich tradition. As a Brooklyn kid, his borough has seen some of the greatest to ever do it. It’s noteworthy that he mentioned Corey (as in Woods, as in Raekwon), as I saw Skyzoo open for Raekwon on the Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II Tour. It must be an unbelievable feeling to perform with one of your idols; it’d be like if Sports Illustrated-era Rick Reilly were my editor.
Skyzoo’s respect for the history and the legends of hip-hop is evident. “Pockets Ful,,” much like the album as a whole, is teeming with Easter Eggs for rap nerds – Biggie’s “Uhh!” adlibs, a beat reminiscent of the starry night on Nas’ “Take it in Blood”, the oft-sampled “Synthetic Substitution” drum break, and a Freeway verse for good measure. The little things like that appeal to Skyzoo’s base that skews toward 1990s revivalists, as Skyzoo sprinkles in Jay-Z and 2pac lines and references from rap’s storied past throughout the album.
The musicality of A Dream Deferred is undoubtedly due to the jazz influences of the poems of its namesake (Langston Hughes). The brassy conclusions of “Jansport Strings” and “Pockets Full” aid the album’s jazzy continuity before it’s loudly and rudely cut off by—dear God—DUBSTEP on “Give it Up”. The track is Skyzoo at his brash best, but it seems shoehorned into an album that’s mostly driven by soul and jazz samples.
The middle third of the album slows down to make room for some R&B, starting with club courtship of “The Knowing” and the resulting Walk of Shame (or Stride of Pride) of “Drew and Derwin”. They’re a nice alternative to what we’re used to from rap love songs: either something cheesy dedicated to the rapper’s main squeeze; or something truly ratchet, like how crazy her twerk videos are on Worldstar. I know you can’t help who you fall in love with, but being featured in a Worldstar video is a nonstarter.
Some of the best moments from A Dream Deferred may be lost on those who aren’t fluent in urban culture. Skyzoo loves his wordplay, and it shines on “Spike Lee Was My Hero”, but in order to fully appreciate it, you’d have to be well-versed in Spike Lee’s filmography. The same goes for the numerous references to The Wire, The Game, Paid in Full, and various other shows and movies. It’s a great feeling to be in on the joke and to be able to appreciate how well he can work the references in, but it can be frustrating for listeners who have to Google every other name they hear in order to understand the song.
Skyzoo is an outstanding writer (with the exception of hooks), and it’s a shame that some of the brightest spots from the album will go over some heads. A Dream Deferred is well-written, but even the best-written verses can have trouble translating into a great piece of music overall. He harnesses it all perfectly on “Pockets Full” and “Range Rover Rhythm”, but he stumbles when his hooks are almost as long as his verses. With his pen game and ear for beats, Skyzoo is a good hook-writer away from a great album.