SkyBlew has already established a penchant for referencing old cartoons in album titles, but “Race For Your Life” takes it back further than I thought Sky would go. In fact Sky goes so far back that he’s actually touching on some of my earliest memories. Both the Charlie Brown “Race For Your Life” cartoon that inspires the cover artwork and the original “Star Wars” movie came out in 1977, and if it weren’t for the fortune of having an older sibling I probably wouldn’t remember either one as I was only three at the time. You gotta be pretty lucky when “little bro” gets to come along to the theater and share the popcorn.
The additional happenstance chance of our local library having a LaserDisc that could be checked out for a few days at a time and copies of each movie meant that in the early 1980’s I could relive those memories and form an indelible imprint. These days both are fodder for pop culture satire on the internet, but for a pre-rap ‘Flash’ both are emotional touchstones. (“YOU BLOCKHEAD!”) It’s also the reason that to this day “Tron” is my favorite sci-fi video game movie. I think I probably wore that poor LaserDisc out watching it over and over.
SkyBlew is not afraid to mine multiple aspects of pop culture in his music, which isn’t surprising given he’s signed to and rolls with Random a/k/a Mega Ran’s label – RandomBeats Music. It only took a few songs of “Race For Your Life” before I was smacked in the face with another familiar touchstone – this one having coming much later in my life – “Kirby’s Dream Land” from 1992. Producer Deejay Verstyle borrows from the original’s music, but also reinterpolates it with different instrumentation, resulting in a track that’s a jazzy hip-hop salute to a GameBoy classic.
For those just now being exposed to SkyBlew, he has a higher pitched voice than his friend and collaborator Ran, which for an old head like me is reminiscent of rappers like DJ Quik and Hi-C, although SkyBlew is far from a California product. In fact SkyBlew was actually born in Alabama and came of age in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. There’s only the slightest hint of a Southern sound or drawl to Sky’s rap, one which perfectly accents the raps of “What Made Sammie Run,” set as they are to the Gap Band classic “Yearning For Your Love.” Again if you’re old enough to remember “Race For Your Life,” you’ll probably also catch deja vu during this song and think of Nas & AZ’s “Life’s a Bitch.”
And if the pop culture wheel hadn’t already turned enough times for you in one review, the song’s title is itself another reference to the famous novel “What Makes Sammy Run?” by Budd Schulberg. Much like the novel’s featured character Sammy Glick, the “Sammie” of SkyBlew’s song is desperate to be a big success, but both characters come to unfortuante ends of different kinds where they can’t “run” from their life any more. It’s this level that SkyBlew operates on for the entirety of “Race For Your Life.” This is a thinking man’s rap for the thinking fan, which SkyBlew directly addresses in the Engelwood produced “Dwayne Wayne (PutEmOnGame).”
“Where your spice at?
You say you’ll give ’em food for thought, they’ll like that
So now I’m gettin it gettin it ’til the gettin is good
They say you gotta dumb it down, make a hit in the hood
But I been in the hood, why would I stay in the hood?”
It also seems like an allusion to Lupe Fiasco, but that could just be my interpretation. Nevertheless the thing that consistently impresses me about SkyBlew from his last album to “Race For Your Life” is that each song seems to be a well thought out story or have a well made point. That’s especially important given this album is 55 minutes long, which means that it could drag if SkyBlew wasn’t a master of his craft. Some songs may almost be TOO deep, such as the K-Murdock produced “A Song For My Ex-Therapist,” where SkyBlew talks about socioeconomic disenfranchisement and noting he “lost (his) innocence from my babysitter – I was chillin, she was flir-ting.” Damn. That’s the other compelling thing about SkyBlew though – nothing seems to be taboo or off topic. “I’m doing much better if I say so myself, but anyway – thanks for the help.”
If there’s a deficit to “Race For Your Life,” there aren’t many songs which you’ll wind up just kicking back to, let alone that you could picture fitting into a traditional FM radio or satellite radio mix. The Engelwood laced “Chasing the DayLIGHT” comes the closest of any of them, but I really don’t want to dog Sky for not making pop music. It’s so rare that anybody makes such personally introspective and worldly observant hip-hop that I really don’t care if SkyBlew doesn’t have a single song on the radio. Don’t buy “Race For Your Life” for that reason – buy it because he’s a young man with something important to say and the talent to say it well.