Concept albums are nothing new to the hip-hop genre. Whether the album has a clear and present specific narrative or just embodying an idea, execution matters. If the listener can follow along via both hearing and visualization, then the rapper(s) has done their job. Usually, the type of concept albums I’m accustomed to listening to usually involves a story all the way through, like an original screenplay borne entirely from the rappers’ imagination (Prince Paul’s “A Prince Among Thieves” is both this and the archetype of hip-hop concept albums), or even an adapted screenplay (like Danger Doom’s “The Mouse & The Mask”, which was about the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programs). However, Brooklyn emcee Skyzoo took a different route for his own. Though his albums are sometimes autobiographical, his latest album “The Mind of a Saint” puts him in the point-of-view of Franklin Saint, the main character of the hit FX television series “Snowfall.”

For those who don’t know, “Snowfall” was the brainchild of the late John Singleton and is essentially a period piece about the rise of crack-cocaine in South Central Los Angeles in 1984. Franklin Saint (played by Damson Idris) is a very intelligent young Black teen who gets involved in the drug game and gains money, power, and having his worst traits exacerbated as the series progresses. Currently in its sixth and final season, Skyzoo raps from Franklin’s perspective across 10 tracks which comprise Mr. Saint’s innermost thoughts on select pivotal moments from the series. Produced entirely by Mighty Joe and Isaiah (DC-based production duo better known as “The Other Guys”), they cover a gamut of sounds ranging from jazz-rap to boom-bap along with pertinent vocal samples from the show. Just to make this less intimidating, knowledge of the series isn’t necessary to follow this album. But fans of both the series and Skyzoo are bound to listen.

Skyzoo also refers to this album as a soliloquy and, in two different senses, that’s true. On one hand, he’s in a recording booth alone rapping these verses. On the other, each track is akin to excerpts from Franklin Saint’s personal diary. In any case, Skyzoo shifts into Franklin and shows the glamour and the worst parts of the drug game. Additionally, Skyzoo identifies with the character’s paranoia as a Black man in America. The opening track, “Eminent Domain”, speaks to that idea with its title alone. It’s very jazz influenced with its samples and appears that Skyzoo is performing a brief lyrical retrospect on Franklin’s transformation, encapsulated in the rhyme “My intentions was to get a million off my insomnia / The sweeter your dreams the more you can wake up a monster.” On “Views from the Valley”, Sky compares his Franklin and his venture into a mostly White drug game to Franklin, the sole Black character of the Peanuts comic strip. Sky delves into Franklin’s paternal upbringing on “Panther & Powder”, sampling many Black Panther Party speeches as the raps detail Franklin’s transition from a Black Panther-laden childhood via his father to becoming a ruthless drug kingpin as something of a rite of passage.

“Straight Drop” is atmospheric even with its Beastie Boys vocal sample and represents a turning point in the series, the moment at which this listener/viewer believed that FX should’ve changed the series’ title to “Hailstorm”: When Franklin discovered how to make crack cocaine and saw the all the money that could be made. The reference Sky makes in the song to L.A. Lakers player Norm Nixon is clever considering the man’s son portrays one of the main antagonists on “Snowfall.” “Bodies!” has a familiar thumping drum sample which goes with the piano samples and jazzy horns. In it, Sky puts Franklin’s regret for all those whom he’s personally killed under full display. Prior to that is “100 to One.” It’s boom bap drums on a jazzy canvas, over 6 minutes, and is a more detailed song about Franklin’s life and motivation throughout the series. It’s actually quite chill and is a lyrical recap of the first five seasons:



The Other Guys shift their samples from jazz to R&B on “The Balancing Act” as Skyzoo puts Franklin’s ego out there for braggadocious rhymes from his perspective, referencing many characters from the series and historical events in L.A. during that time period. “Brick by Brick” begins with one of the most iconic quotes from Franklin in the series as Sky rationalizes Franklin’s decisions in the business, even the ones that ruin lives: “Never rain in SoCal, but I got all this +snow+ to +fall+ / Counting all this money while making this shit the smokers’ fault.” I wrote earlier about Franklin having regrets, but he also has guilt. Case-in-point: “Apologies in Order”, as Skyzoo raps about Franklin’s childhood love, Melody, and how he inadvertently ruined her for good. The final track, “Purity”, utilizes a coda made of a vocal sample collage for an anti-drug message.

This is the first full-length hip-hop release of 2023 that I’ve truly liked, enough to throw down some coin for it. Not knowing anything about the album prior to listening to it, I was honestly nearly halfway through the album when I realized what Skyzoo was doing. He has an eye for detail uses a fictional character and his cinematic environment, in part, to comment on a sub-genre of hip-hop that’s often lauded: Coke raps. Hip-hop and urban audiences are enraptured with drug narratives, especially its rewards. It’s just that the negative consequences are never considered and Sky conveyed that message expertly…. through the eyes of a Saint.


Skyzoo x The Other Guys :: The Mind of a Saint
9Overall Score