Smile Politely

Review: Sky’s Gr8Sky

Though it has been rapidly expanding in recent months, up until recent memory, the Champaign-Urbana hip-hop scene was by and large a laughable collection of relatively weak rhymesmiths trying to be something far beyond their true scope. Sure, Psalm One was a student at the U of I, but this was merely a stopover for the Rhymesayers emcee (she earned a chemistry degree, if anyone was wondering), which seemed to be an unfortunately trend for talent coming through Champaign.

Luckily, as Sky and rest of his crew, TheGr8Thinkaz are successfully bucking this trend. Though it seems to be a trend to form cliques in hip-hop lately (see Odd Future, TDE, and Savemoney, for example), that’s just about the only thing about the Thinkaz that seems to fit into any type of mould. Hailing from Urbana, TheGr8Thinkaz consist of Jay Moses, JEFFdaMC, Klevah, and Sky and combine to form a crew that varies in styles and influences, respectively. Female lyrical firebrand Klevah, for example, released her debut mixtape The W8 about a year ago to much acclaim. Jay Moses has been a staple of C-U hip-hop for some time, and last year’s project #TheGenius, was quietly one of the most impressive EP’s to come out of the midwest.

Outside of a couple of visuals, Sky’s presence on the Champaign hip-hop radar has been rather enigmatic. Though I’ve seen him perform songs with the other Gr8Thinkaz at various shows, I’ve never been able to put an identity to the tall kid in wayfarers with the super dope Tune-Squad hat on. Today, however, that all changes. With the release of his first ever project (and his first on Champaign’s own Heirship Records) Gr8Sky, Sky has shown me that he’s more than just that tall kid on stage with Jay or Klev, but rather he’s got a flow and vision all of his own, independent of anything else, and I must say, that’s quite impressive.

Though the content of the project is deserving of recognition, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the true unique nature of this release: It’s being released in a cassette tape format, which seems to be a very trendy thing to do lately in the sprit of underground DIY punk music. The tape is divided into two sides: side A: Day and side B: Night. While this is a unique feature, from a mass-listening perspective, it makes the experience more laborious than I’m, and most modern hip-hop listeners, are used to. Luckily, I am told a tracked out version of Gr8Sky will be available for streaming very soon. With that being said, there’s certainly something to be said for total immersion, and I definitely get that vibe with Gr8Sky.

The project itself is a phenomenal mix of styles. Sky’s flow is naturally lackadaisical, and takes a little getting used to, but in a project as long as this one (clocking in at over 80 minutes) it becomes more easing than annoying; it’s not difficult to listen to and it’s easy on the ears. Sky’s raps aren’t overly-intellectual and in this case, that’s a good thing. This is the type of music you can just sit back and relax to, and don’t necessarily have to analyze every entendre or verse.

The length of Gr8Sky is both a blessing and a curse, however. While after a listen it’s apparent that Sky’s rhyming ability is much more than adequate, some of his talent gets lost in the fray of such a long project. It’s hard to single out tracks when there are just so many to choose from. Perhaps Sky has been amassing content for a while, but it may have been better served in the form of smaller projects, not just one massive one.

The unsung hero of Gr8Sky lies in the production of the album, which relies heavily on the skills of JEFFdaMC’s beatmaking older brother: H. Kal-El. Overall, the tone of the project is airy and etherial, relying less on heavy drums and cymbals and more on more unique sounds. This is not to say that Gr8Sky is without the boom-bap sound which has exploded in popularity over the past five years, but rather that these tracks are carefully placed within the project as to not over-saturate the overarching image. “Mission Statement” in the middle of the Day side of the tape, is a wonderful example of this, and shines as one of the project’s brightest moments.

Stream the lead single below, and don’t forget to pick yourself up a copy from Heirship Records.

Check out Sky and his new release tonight at Mike ‘N Molly’s in the beer garden with Landon Wordswell, MoStafa, Chase Baby, and DJ Crispy Bill.
Editor’s Note: There were some slight revisions made to this article after it was originally published. Thanks for understanding.

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