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Navy Blue - Gangway for Navy Music Album Reviews


Built on loud, low-bit-rate samples, the New York rapper uses a relaxed, almost deadpan flow to nestle deep in his own consciousness, drawing you in close to his words.

The man behind the Navy Blue moniker, Sage Elsesser, is a pro skater who models for Supreme, has his own Converse sneaker and can be heard at the end of Frank Ocean’s Blonde boasting of his ability to play the theremin. But on Gangway for Navy, a compelling and hazy collection of songs posted to Soundcloud this month, Elsesser is far away from the starry social circles he sometimes inhabits. Instead, he’s nestled deep in his own consciousness, rapping in a loose delivery over tightly wound samples about the friends and family that molded his heart. It sounds a lot like his longtime friend and one-time roommate Earl Sweatshirt’s 2018 album Some Rap Songs and achieves a similar effect.

Like Earl did on Some Rap Songs, which he worked on while crashing at Elsesser’s Brooklyn apartment a few years ago, Elsesser builds the production on Gangway mostly by himself using loud, low-bit-rate samples erected on sharp, crushing percussion. Whereas loop-diggers like Madlib tended to fold his drums smoothly into the sample, Elsesser aerates each snare and bass kick with shrapnel, giving his tracks a big heaving quality, like a barge swaying in the middle of a storm. On “can’t take me,” hi-hats and bass kicks pulse under a rubbery organ line; machine-gun claps propel a bed of pitched-down strings on “slow down.”

This sound is the buoyant force of Gangway, a sound on which Elsesser floats during his verses. His flow is relaxed and deadpan, the opposite of showmen MCs who alter their timbre to emphasize certain lines. You won’t necessarily catch his small pockets of detail on first listen, but that’s part of the fun, searching for them on each return visit. On “carlos,” for example, he encapsulates the long-term toll of abandonment by a loved one with the line, “I can count the years when it hurt the most.” He finishes that verse by stating three words but only attaching meaning to two: “Growth, these words, know they hurt to hold/Grace, give thanks, know I’m not alone/Grief…” He lets the third word linger, as if he himself is its definition.

Heartache is an underlying theme of Gangway, but Elsesser never conveys it dramatically. Rather, it’s more like he’s stating the facts of his existence, balancing questions of profundity (“My soul is scared...will I fall victim to the same three things?”) with the nuances that formed his childhood, down to what exactly was on the dinner table. He speaks about his role as a man, both in his family (he mentions his sisters, mother, dad, and grandma frequently) and the greater universe. He’s a son and brother to his direct kin, but also to the millions of descendants of Africans who were brought over as slaves to this country. “Got the face of my father, hands of my fathers,” he boasts poetically on the opener, “apprehension.”

There’s zero talk here about his life in the limelight, gracing lookbooks, and popular skate videos, but there are hints of its difficulties, such as on “shine on me!,” when he raps, “More problems on my plate cause I’m grown/Not cause I’m growin’.” Featured on the track is Bronx rapper MIKE, whose music Earl introduced Elsesser to while they were living together. His voice is much huskier than Elsesser’s whirring hum and gives the project—he’s featured on two of its eight tracks—some needed dynamism. “Always hogs on the block cause the area harsh,” he grunts, a colorful line that demonstrates why he’s gradually becoming the face of NYC’s alternative hip-hop scene. But the true beauty of Gangway lies in its personalism. It’s bone-deep, poems spun through a stream of consciousness. It takes a long time for some artists to sound like themselves; for Elsesser, it’s the name of the game.


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