“Are you ready to die for what you believe in / I’m ready to die for what I believe in.” The chant at the end of “God Speed,” the second track on The Black Opera’s latest offering, The Great Year, is eerily empowering and actually believable. Conviction is a characteristic that is not highly regarded as essential in today’s musical landscape, but The Black Opera keeps conviction at the forefront, embedding each track with socially pointed and spiritually minded lyricism that certainly builds a case for such a powerful mantra.
The tone of The Great Year is primarily serious, but somehow the listener is able to take it all in without feeling he or she is being preached to, perhaps the conviction with which the duo shares their message is the key to keeping it palatable. There is no doubt that the vehicles the lyrics travel on, provided by a wide range of eclectic producers, create an auditory ambiance conducive to openness, which also makes the message more acceptable and accessible. Lastly, Black Opera’s subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, use of satire introduces just enough comedy to help us to laugh at the ridiculousness found in American society without becoming depressed.
Each time I listened to the album, I couldn’t help but think that The Black Opera is a carrying on the essence of Black Star. I kept thinking to myself, “If Yasiin and Talib started a label, The Black Opera would be the first act to be signed.” While The Great Year may fall short of the “classic” bar set by Mos Def and Talib Kweli, it is worth multiple listens and fills a void left by much of the nonsense that floods the airwaves.
While that praise in the previous paragraph has been earned over multiple releases and is true, I must temper it with one point of critique. Each track, transition and consequently the album as a whole, is right there, standing on the edge of greatness, yet just settles for really good. I hope and believe that on The Black Opera’s next release, we will see all the pieces perfectly placed and greatness achieved, but until then, really good is simply really good.
“Behold The Opera” serves as an introduction to The Great Year, The Black Opera and the DNA of their music, from who the two MCs are to the great diversity found in the music they choose to rap to and to the topics you can expect to hear covered. “God Speed” follows up the first track with some ominous drums and eerie synths, offset by some Cudi-esque singing on the hook, once again making the heavy message light enough to be enjoyed and not just heard. The album carries on in a very pleasing manner, with one track seamlessly leading into the next and carrying much of the same tone throughout.
There are a couple of standout tracks/interludes that should be mentioned. “Never Saw It Coming” is hands down my favorite record on the album. The sample sticks with you, haunts you and the stories told to its melancholy hanging in the background are well told, heavy tales of caution. In poetry, there is a tool called enjambment, which is used so that a word or a line reads both forward and backward in the poem and I feel this song, even if not intentionally, works in a similar manner. The song tells these stories wherein the protagonist never saw it coming, and it also, in its entirety, tells the story of how the industry never saw The Black Opera coming… but they are upon us.
“Character Assassination” is another track that I heavily suggest giving multiple spins. It is a necessary reminder for listeners to seek that which is authentic and not simply to seek that which seems authentic. This hits us all on a personal level, communal level and on a societal level. The “Feedback” interlude is a perfect pairing with “Character Assassination” as The Black Opera and friends give comic relief regarding the music industry’s desire to parade around caricatures of what they would like to display and what they can sell. Food for thought.
I am both proud and glad to see The Black Opera continuing the legacy of authenticity and seriousness that each play integral roles in Hip Hop music and culture, yet are lacking in much of the music created and released today. With a healthy discography, a lot of momentum and no sign of slowing down, The Black Opera is climbing toward the climax of their narrative and you won’t want to miss the concertato.