Actual Proof - Black Boy Radio

Posted 4 years ago
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There was a time (the first 160,000 years of human civilization, give or take) when you...

Black Boy Radio Album Review

There was a time (the first 160,000 years of human civilization, give or take) when you couldn’t just crack open your laptop and be three clicks away from literally millions of songs. For most of my life, and the lives of our parents, the radio was our primary connection to the larger world. So for music lovers a dope station could feel like the Bible and a dope radio DJ like a prophet, setting the moments of our lives to music and giving us a glimpse of places we’d never even dreamed of visiting. Of course, that also means the radio led a lot of poor souls astray, but I’ll still always look back fondly on memories of sitting in front of the radio for hours with my finger on the record button, just hoping to catch that dope new song on cassette.

Actual Proof obviously have similar feelings about the figurative and literal power of radio waves to shape a life. The collection of sounds they’ve put together for their new album, Black Boy Radio, serve as the soundtrack to the life of a young boy growing up in Raleigh, North Carolina, a concept that gives an already deeply layered album an additional layer of complexity. Though their styles are distinct, like Mayday’s recently released album, Black Boy is part of a growing hip-hop movement dedicated to swimming against the current and making long-lasting music at a time when we measure life in minutes, not years. There’s still classically-oriented music being made, you just have to look outside your radio dial to find it.

For a taste of Actual Proof’s mission there’s no better place to start than the title track; ideally the purpose of a title track is to encapsulate the album’s mission. While a gripping, jazz-influenced beat unwinds in the background, Sundown and Enigma pen an ode to the culture words: “It seems I leaned on words / seen dreams deferred with Langston Hughes pennin on the curb / in tune, like my radio.” It’s a song about the transformational power of song; you could call it meta-rap, or you could just call it dope. Similarly, album opener Live From Cloud 9 pairs a dreamy instrumental with some fully awoken lyrics while Headlights brings on fellow Jamla-por-vida representer Rapsody for a slow meditation on the balance between pursuing your dreams at the same time you’re trying to figure out exactly what those dreams are. Black Boy Radio isn’t an album you can fully digest in one listen, and that’s the entire point – someone’s got to keep the people hungry.

But while Black Boy Radio is a serious enough album to warrant a serious album, it’s be wrong to give the impression that it’s oppressively heavy. On the contrary, many of its more powerful moments are delivered with joy, starting with single All the Way. Thanks in no small part to a celebratory hook from Raheem DeVaughn, All the Way is the type of track you play on the ride home after that first perfect date with that girl you’ve been chasing for months. And as long we’re talking about affairs of the heart, So Into You brings some real nine-month heat to the table, while Why You Wanna Pass Me By might just be the album’s most lighthearted offering, throwing down a Patti Mayonnaise reference on top of a brightly bouncing beat. And I’d have to throw Casa De La Hottest (which I believe is German for a whale’s vagina) into the mix, a conversational bonus cut which serves as a mellowed out closing note to the album. Good music that makes you feel good, without the aid of several Patron shots, imagine that.

The radio was never a messenger of all that is good. Payola scandals have been happening since Alan Freed’s days, and in recent times a monolithic Clear Channel is intent on scrubbing any hint of life and originality from our airwaves. But the spirit of radio, the ability to transmit an artist’s life into the ears of anyone willing to tune in, remains more than alive thanks to projects like Black Boy Radio. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a few programmers to kidnap, and the ransom will be Actual Proof in regular rotation.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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