God. N***ers. Kings. These are the powerful words that compile the acronym Bronx artist YC The Cynic’s debut album bears as its title. These are the words embodied by the artwork, a piece gifted to us all by the evidently skilled Ivan Merlin. These are the words that shape one of the best projects of the year, in every song, from start to finish.
At times an underlying force, the importance of these three concepts resides most noticeably throughout several distinct tracks. “God Complex” sees the enlightened New Yorker narrating from the perspective of the most high, which becomes even more interesting thanks to the stellar video that accompanies it. In the visual peace, YC assumes the starring role, but small changes suggest major thematic implications: a civilian hat is traded for a kingly crown and vice versa, while enlarged, talking lips take on a godly presence that collectively establish a hierarchy of sorts seen on the project’s cover.
However, this chain of command is highly interpretable and, in ways, interchangeable. YC is careful to remind us that there is one God, but many N***ers and Kings (that sentiment can be seen in the title alone, as the latter two words are deliberately plural). To chase that point further, while the king is “free” and the enslaved man is not, they both occupy the same level plane in the palms of the gold-plated God figure on the album cover, much like the crowned YC and the hat-donning YC stand below the lips of their shared “one and only savior” in the video for “God Complex”.
Trading in the control of those with halos for the control of peasants and underlings, YC wears the price of royalty on his head in the layered track “Negus”, a song featuring nothing less than poetic genius: “Picture Langston flipping language dipped in royal garbs / Marcus Garvey did The Garden in embroidered scarves.” It is through the name of this song and its chorus (which makes a change to the cliche rap statement “I’ll ride for my n***as, I’ll die for my n***as”) that a beautiful double meaning is established. Negus, which phonetically resembles the n-word, also translates to mean “king” in Amharic and has biblical roots. Perhaps, like the cover suggests, this is meant to once more emphasize the heavy similarity between a black king and a black man, here labeled the n***er. YC mentions having a team that consists of made men, yet he states that they all “still got two hands on the slaveships” before adding that they are all “modern day slaves” (perhaps why the king in the artwork is sporting Nikes). By utilizing historic knowledge, the young artist twists one of his country’s most notorious words in a way that is nothing less than remarkable, all while continuing his own theme.
Simply put, the multi-dimensional YC made a project so concise, thematically constant, and powerful that an entire review (much longer than this one, even) could be written on just a handful of songs, and he did so without preventing the listener from actually enjoying his album for its musical components. Even if someone never bothered to decipher all that lies within these twelve songs, to say it’s still more than worth the hard-drive space is a massive understatement.
As incredible as the mic-bearer is on GNK, none of this would be possible without the equally impressive and vital contributions of Frank Drake, who produced every single record without any redundancy. From the rapid scratching of samples on “The N Word” to the ’80s-inspired, Stones-esque track “HVNLY”, which evokes similar memories and emotions conjured by the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”, Drake allows for everything to come together. His sounds always match YC’s rapping points, cadence, and sentiments, and they make for a sonic journey, from beginning to end.
GNK is a rarity, an ever-gleaming gem amongst an army of dull pebbles. There are no tricks or gimmicks here. This is not a collection of songs strung together featuring a bunch of nicely assembled internal rhymes that in reality hold little to no meaning, nor is this the product of a rapper who is trying to be something more. In all honesty, YC the Cynic has presented anyone who is willing to listen with an invaluable gift, a gift that will be cherished for years to come.
4.5 out of 5
You can purchase GNK on Amazon.