Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this edition of the Independent Spotlight, we are going to be delving into Phoenix The Misfit and his latest mixtape, ‘Indigo: A New Generation.’ His eclectic endeavor touches on ‘various topics ranging from identity of self, truth, police brutality, love, and death.’ Thus, the hip hop artist covers a whole lot of ground in just ten tracks. The finished product is, for the most part, a remarkably sound effort chock-full of interesting contemplations. Let’s dig right into it.
‘(Intro) In Peace’ is a really compelling effort through samples. Essentially, Phoenix utilizes a massive introduction that recounts countless African American figures who died tragically. Martin Luther King Jr., Tupac, Jimi Hendrix... they're are all present, reminisced through the news reports of their deaths. The tune touches on our modern struggles with police brutality and the black community as well: Ferguson, Chicago, and the like. As a man who is currently living in the middle of Chicago, this tune really resonated with me. Especially the last several seconds, which I believe are from a Chicago protest that many of my dear friends were in attendance for. (“We’re gonna’ be all right!”) Phoenix nails the atmosphere of these protests in the track, and his production is on mark throughout.
‘Nodus Tollens’ introduces Phoenix as a masterful performer. He tactfully moves from verse to verse quickly and effortlessly, backed by a magnificently unique production. His musings about the black struggle with police in the United States right now are quite profound, actually. The system itself is broken, and Phoenix exploits this elegantly through some excellent lyricism.
‘Child (All U Ever Wanted)’ is an equally deep tune, touching on the nuances of love. “I’ll be the adjective to your verb,” he croons over a soundscape that’s just as unique as its two predecessors. I’d like to touch on why that is so important - The independent hip hop scene is completely inundated with bad, predictable, trope-driven music. It’s by far the most saturated independent outlet. That’s why artists like Phoenix are so special: they’re breaking through the noise with authentic, passionate content.
‘Let Me Free’ is one of the most poignant productions on the entirety of ‘Indigo.’ Goodness, that soulful, intense vocal sample matched by equally fierce instrumentation is unbelievable. Phoenix continues his jaunt through socially conscious hip hop, which again, is refreshing amidst a scene of mundane, uninspired content. ‘Welcome 2 AmeriKKKa’ is an interlude of sorts that follows shortly after ‘Let Me Free,’ one that makes some bold statements. (Hell, look at that song title.) It’s a skit, reminiscent of an early Kendrick Lamar or Kanye West sketch. The skit plays out a scenario akin to what is sending my neighborhood up in arms the last few weeks, and Ferguson and Baltimore before it.
‘S.A.M.’ is a much more simplistic track, at least, instrumentally. The track deals with a ‘hurricane of anger and pain’ after a woman cheats on Phoenix. “Be careful when you invest, communication is key” he declares over a track that seems to be a warning statement toward any man who’s in a less than healthy relationship. The production toys with some brief jazz elements as well, something that plays into Phoenix’s hand perfectly. There’s a comparison to be made here, but I’ll close with that below.
‘Psalm 119:130’ opens with a lengthy, but insightful sample. Again, Phoenix is delving into some social topics, though I’d argue the emotionally driven ‘Wabi-Sabi’ is one of the highest moments toward the end of the record. I really dig how Phoenix effortlessly hops from themes of love and self-discovery to police brutality and social injustice. ‘VGV,’ a remix featuring Cory Gunz and Lij Soleo, does feel somewhat out of place. The two guest artists add a different flair to the music, and I’m not so sure how well it jives alongside tunes like ‘Let Me Free’ and ‘Nodus Tollens.’
‘Same Stories (Hold On, Be Strong)’ does close the album with a bang, however, culminating everything that’s great about ‘Indigo’ into one succinct effort. Thus, I think ‘Indigo: A New Generation’ is one of the finest independent hip hop efforts of the year. It feels immensely relevant through all of its revelations. I’d go as far to argue that it is the rap album the independent scene needed in 2015, and not a moment too soon to close the year out. If I was to compare it to a popular contemporary work, I’d say its insights fall directly in line with the best effort of this year: ‘To Pimp A Butterfly.’