It’s hard to categorize the music that Navy Blue, né Sage Elsesser, makes. Convenience calls for describing it as rap and calling Elsesser, who moonlights as a professional skateboarder, a rapper. He’s part of a growing cohort of musicians who make what’s been dubbed “lo-fi” rap, which seems just as insufficient a descriptor. Navy’s freewheeling approach to language and narrative shares a lot of tendencies with spoken-word poetry, and there’s a spiritual dimension to his music as well. His debut from last February, Àdá Irin, took its name from a Yoruba term for a sacred tool used by the spirit Ògún and found Navy intent on unearthing inner strength. His latest release, Song of Sage: Post Panic!, picks up where that record left off, providing useful meditations on self-discovery. While it still might be imprecise, you could say Navy Blue makes music for liberation.
Consider the standout track “Breathe,” which features one of rap’s spiritual elders Yasiin Bey. The song finds the pair trading existential verses that contemplate the futility of earthly things. The beat, a soulful loop courtesy of the Los Angeles producer Animoss, hypnotizes you until you find yourself in a different state of mind. “Something about the subconscious,” Navy opens. “Why I hold my tongue hostage.” What follows is a stream-of-consciousness treatise. Navy Blue’s greatest appeal might be in how nimbly he navigates the weighty concerns of the self. So much so that listening to “Breathe” feels like watching an athlete achieve some impossible feat of human ingenuity. By the end of his verse, he’s unearthed something true: “Most the trauma tied to my father/Parallels of light shining on me,” he raps. “A knight in shining armor/Ignite the plight and karma.”
Yasiin Bey’s verse brings it home. “The condition of the people won’t change/Till they change what’s in themselves,” he declares, borrowing a verse from the Qur’an. His melodic bridge, informing us that “We in the place to be,” gently lands us back on earth. “Breathe” is a song about being present enough to make real change. It’s spiritual and existential, but most of all, it’s imperative.