Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Time Is Near: Review of BRB by Notiz Yong

 An astute listener would tell you I.E. hip-hop veteran Notiz Yong has always used music to vent his negative feelings. In BRB, he extrapolates the practice into a major theme for an album. In Dear Rappers… he owned his negativity, on BRB he attempts a spiritual cleansing, turning the aggressive feelings into blessings like squeezing water from stones.

Sonically, this is his most brain-massaging album since Rappers in my opinion. He smartly deploys his own production skills in conjunction with young but experienced I.E. beatmakers like Asend and Kordisepz to create an11 track record with a unified feel. His maturity and his anger on display side by side, the candor of Notiz’ concerns and dreams and frustrations are human and soothing to hear whether it’s over keyboardy boom-bap or nu-rap electro-bangers.

Notiz continues to wield his singing voice with confidence such as on the opening song and “RIL”. “NTW” is the second video for the album, after the hip-hop homie cameo-laden “FYH”, and it’s a great demonstration of Notiz’ updating his sound for new years while staying true to his aesthetic. It’s one of the most impressive things about his catalog, the consistent style within works by numerous producers.

On “FYR”, Yong tackles religion in America and explains how he sees tribalism. The concept of blessing has become mantra to him, a reflexive defense against not only external but internal negativity. The single “FYH”  is the one moment where he lets himself go off on the haters with no Zen guardrails on his trains of thought. The ideas of people taking up your personal space, of haters, of being taken for granted are pervasive in an almost paranoid way. Yong’s MC persona’s wit and melody are his weapons against these encroaching forces.
“DTD”, like “FYR”, shows Yong’ consciousness expanding beyond the I.E. and on America at large. I can’t help but wonder if he would have made such songs if we were not in the era of Trump. Like “FYR”, “DTD” meditates on tribalism and Yong’s willingness to make the listener part of his, the distance people will travel to follow their dreams. Yong’s dreamers that he refers to throughout the whole album, usually including himself in that grouping, are particularly present on “DTD” and I couldn’t help but hear them as DREAMers as Notiz croons “You ain’t got to fear/the time is near”. Perhaps an artistic sign of hope for the day when people can come out of the shadows and live their best lives.

“Through the Pain” has one of my favorite sung choruses from Yong so far and makes explicit the idea of him squeezing blessings out of his pain. He reiterates all the album’s biggest themes on this closer, with this entreaty to the audience: “live a lot and just shine”. Yong’s funny vocalizations and laughs throughout the album, singing “bonus” over and over on the intro, the recorded phone call “be right back..” at the very end and more, give this, his most thoughtful work yet, relatable flourishes of personality.

In 2017, balancing boom-bap sound with modern styled double time songs is a factor I look at with underground hip-hop albums since we’re at a point when versatile MCs can’t ignore the existence of these poles on the spectrum of rap. Notiz has delivered what I think represents the best balance of these styles in an album I’ve heard all year- weaving seamlessly from tempo to tempo, choosing beats that still feel of one piece, and taking his craft seriously throughout; there’s something on this record for a lot of different kinds of hip-hop listeners. In Be Right Back / Bless Right Back Notiz Yong has reached the religious phase of his artistic career and the time has come for us all to reap the spiritual harvest.

Tristan "Tanjint Wiggy" Acker is a staff writer for JooseBoxx, youth hip-hop writing instructor with CHORDS Enrichment Youth program (chordseyp.org) and member of the Inland Empire nerdcore hip-hop group the West Coast Avengers. Catch more of their work at westcoastavengers.com, follow Tristan on Twitter @Tanjint or e-mail him at tristanacker@gmail.com