Navy Blue "Ways Of Knowing" Review

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Navy Blue
Navy Blue
Navy Blue’s “Ways Of Knowing” is a poetically profound homage to the relationships that shaped him.

Sage Elsesser (better known as Navy Blue) curated an introspective sound that is a far echo from his days skateboarding for Converse. The LA-born MC became a household name in the indie rap scene with the critically acclaimed Navy's Reprise. However, Elsesser's wide-ranged creative influences go well beyond rap. He's dabbled in the spheres of modeling, fashion, and acting. It's a heck of a resume for a 26-year-old. Discussing his creative interests on the Internet People Live show with Zack Fox, he stated, "Everything I do all feels the same to me. It all serves the same purpose in my life."

This wide portfolio enabled him to collaborate with an array of influential artists -- Earl Sweatshirt, billy woods, The Alchemist, and even Frank Ocean. However, he prefers not to capitalize on this rich social circle from a musical perspective. Opting to keep his thematic ideas to himself, Navy Blue is inherently a self-starter rather than one that relies on the people around him. Ways of Knowing is Navy Blue's first major-label release under Def Jam Recordings, a project that speaks volumes to Elsesser's poetic talent.

Navy Blue's move to Brooklyn at the age of 12 had an evident influence on his sound. Even though he grew up in Los Angeles, his music leans closer to his East Coast contemporaries such as MIKE or billy woods. Ways of Knowing is his most personal project to date: an in-depth analysis of how his relationship with his parents shaped his adulthood. He's acutely aware of the influence a child's home life has on their outlook as they grow older. Navy Blue's relationship with his family is portrayed as multi-faceted. However, Ways of Knowing is ultimately an ode of gratitude to his parents.

Ways of Knowing Is Intentionally Uplifting

Over the past few years, much of the narrative in rap left audiences feeling defeated. Kendrick Lamar's Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers tackles transgenderism, child molestation, and Black trauma and compacts it into a double-disc listen. Earl Sweatshirt's Sick! confronts the struggles of post-pandemic life. Throughout Ways of Knowing, Navy Blue seems fed up with this continuous dark cloud hovering over the genre these days. He stated, "I don't really want to be remembered as this stoic guy who's perpetually reflecting on his trauma and Black plight, you know? I want to make something that makes people smile out of joy, rather than smile in grief." Of course, the sobering themes explored in hip-hop are merely a reflection of reality. However, Navy Blue is looking to leave his audience with a sense of hope.

Ways of Knowing is an indie summer album that one could listen to on a hammock for hours. The record is rooted in R&B, more so than any of his previous projects. Navy Blue rides sample-heavy beats which blend the worlds of soul and jazz. Def Jam may have hoped he beefed up this record with mainstream features and an accessible sound. However, Ways of Knowing is anything but that. Navy Blue brings in experimental indie-soul artists such as Budgie and Liv.e to execute his vision.

An Ode To His Family

From the subdued piano keys on "The Medium" to the smooth sampling on "Phases," Budgie's production never fails to impress. No track sounds the same, making Ways of Knowing thoroughly unpredictable and engaging. While his direct family is the primary source of narrative on the project, Navy Blue also talks about his past relationships with women. On "The One," he ruminates on the end of his longest-lasting relationship. He states, "Always here for you / I'll always love you just like that light that's always there for you." His approach to addressing previous partners is one of appreciation and love, rather than spite. The perspective is a unique and refreshing one in the grand scheme of hip-hop's usual bravado.

Navy Blue's portrayal of pain is multi-faceted throughout Ways of Knowing. Whether it be depression or heartbreak, he reflects on these experiences as valuable life lessons. He states, "Depression had me down and out, had to grab it by the tusks." However, the pain is still there, as he states in "Embers." "I miss my Mama, Grandma, and Pa so much / I see em' in my dreams every single night." A sonic blend of soul and jazz, the production itself is an ode to those who came before him. His most intimate record to date, Navy Blue's Ways of Knowing is an early contender for rap album of the year.

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