Every time you listen to a song, you’re hearing a carefully crafted conversation between the music and the lyrics. Rhymefest has taken that a step further in his latest masterpiece James & Nikki: A Conversation
Grammy winner, social activist, and University of Chicago professor Rhymefest‘s newest project remasters a conversation between black literary icons James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni from 1971. The project features stories about black life in America, the struggle for racial justice, and evolving gender roles in this intelligent piece of art. The project includes soundbites from the original conversation, as well as Rhymefest’s artistic interpretations.
Rhymefest became inspired by the conversation after he heard it. Despite the differences between Baldwin and Giovanni, they came together and spoke about the world around them. They shared their stories and experiences with one another and Rhymefest wanted to create a project reflecting that.
There are nine tracks on the album, featuring artists Helixx C Armageddon, Infamous Teefa, Brittany Carter, Freddie Old Soul, E.P Da Hellcat, and Saba the Godis. The album is being released by the Golden State Entertainment (GSE), entertainment division of the Golden State Warriors. The team is the only team in the NBA to do something like this.
This is a piece of music the likes we’ve never really seen. Rhymefest’s vision is clear throughout the project. He combines classic sounds of rap and hip-hop with the masterful pieces of knowledge from Baldwin and Giovanni’s conversation. There’s such a beautiful and powerful story being told in each track, creating an engaging piece of music. He has created a piece of art that pulls you into the story and makes the listener part of the conversation.
Rhymefest has done a spectacular job creating a project that showcases decades of hip-hop influence. Tracks like “Triggered” and “Pop” feel reminiscent of early eras of rap, while “Elderberry” and “Deja Vu” feel more like the current direction of the genre. Many of the other tracks feature beats and lyrical flows from that of late 2000’s rap. Overall the album feels like a journey through the years of hip-hop and gives us a taste of many different influences.
You can’t talk about a music album without also talking about production and that is another place this album soars. The sound bites of Baldwin and Giovanni weave perfectly into every song and always catch your attention. They create a beautiful flow and conversation between them and the music. Every artist creates a perfect lyrical flow, working beautifully in tandem with the music. Each track features a beat that hits wonderfully with story and never feels dull or repeated. The genius producers on this project have crafted a beautiful piece of music that not only helps tell stories, but elevates them.
It’s a complex and intelligent body of art, one that tells of struggle, love, introspection, and growth. Throughout all of that, it is also a story of being unapologetically black and proud. Rhymefest invites listeners to try and see through all these many lenses and tells a powerful story while doing so. He’s reimagined this iconic, historic conversation and created a piece of music that feels completely new and inspiring.
The album is out now and you can listen to it here.