For all of its flaws, hip-hop as an art form has always shown a knack for uncovering beauty in the simplistic. A sample from an overlooked album by an overlooked band can be reworked and turned into a well-loved anthem. Similarly, hip-hoppers can uncover the hidden beauty in rusted train cars, vacant lots, broken down cardboard boxes, second-hand fits, and (probably most importantly) a life that's been molded by poverty and run-ins with the law. Over the course of his new album B.A.B.Y (Being A Black Youth), Michigan-bred hip-hop artist One Be Lo uses his vivid gift of gab to shine a poignant light on the memories of his life and, in doing so, reveals soul-stirring themes that connect us all. Along the way, he enlists the help of a number of top tier emcees – including Royce da 5'9", Freeway, Jean Grae, Black Milk, Guilty Simpson, DJ Abilities, Devin the Dude, and more.
Few emcees can sketch out stories and scenes with One Be Lo's skill. He shows a sharp eye for details while also retaining a certain economy of language. And when you combine his airtight rhymes with soul-sampling production from Soul Council member Eric G (who provided all the beats for the project), you get an album that plays like a classic hip-hop record from years past. The first track of the album, a Melanie Rutherford assisted gem called "Bees and Bird Yolk (Why Chromosomes)", is a great display of how well Lo and Eric G work together as the former reminisces over his formative years as the latter hammers out an up-tempo boom-bap beat. One Be Lo's uncluttered, melodic flow lets him fly through several decades and plenty of pop culture references with ease and land at a place that is at once joyful and moving. The two men bring that same deep-rooted energy to other album highlights such as "Bars and Be Yawned (Son Shine and Reign)", "Buttons Attached, Buckles Yoked (Come Unity)", and the blue sky soaring "Barbecues and Back Yards (Live at the BBQ)".
And while B.A.B.Y. is packed to the gills with soulful trips down memory lane, the album doesn't come up short in the braggadocious, "supa-emceeing" department. On "Battle Armor Built Young (Go Harder)" Lo connects with fellow Michigan spitters Black Milk and Guilty Simpson to drop a hard-hitting rhymefest that's laced with heavy stomping drums and triumphant horn stabs. The chest-out-proud bravado that spills over from that cut can also be heard on tracks like "Blown Away By Youngsters (Dis A Peer)", and the exceptional "Bills Ain't Bossing You (I.T.C.H)" – which features the always dope Freeway sounding just as hungry as he ever was when he was still running with The Roc.
As with past projects from One Be Lo, his fondness for using life-centered acronyms (i.e. L.A.B.O.R, S.O.N.O.G.R.A.M., The R.E.B.I.R.T.H, etc.) continues to hold true with the B.A.B.Y. (Being A Black Youth album. The title to every track is built to fit within the "B.A.B.Y" rule and the entire album feels like a bittersweet portrait of himself as a young man and an artist trying to find his way in the world.
You can check out B.A.B.Y (Being A Black Youth) right now exclusively on One Be Lo's Bandcamp page.