The Divine Suns: “The Beautiful” is very necessary music
I’ve heard the same complaints that you have. In all honesty, I’ve lodged a number of them myself. They typically sound something rather like hip-hop has lost its way, or is on its last legs, or the quality of the music and culture have fallen due to the taste and ability of the wayward children currently stewarding the art. We are, ultimately, rather proud snobs we elderly hip-hop heads.
This focus on quality, and substance, and integrity means that I don’t get to spend as much time with hip-hop as is good for my soul, and that the exile is often self-imposed. I lean back over the balcony to peer down and see that the kids are still playing, but rarely does the game interest me. Until it does.
I would suggest that I am an hip-hop listener who keeps my ear to the proverbial street, and follows the thread of recommendations made by those that I trust. Occasionally, I come across a thread as the Clue unfurls that provides me with a gift that I didn’t know I needed. It gives me something that is good to the ear, and feeling and soul. It gives me something that doesn’t require comparison or debate or ranking, but simply needs the space and time to be near you.
This latest project by the Divine Suns checks those affirming boxes. This, their seventh project if I’m counting correctly, is their most complete work to date. I want to prepare you going in, because like all art, this project won’t be for everyone.
When I finished my second listen to “The Beautiful”, I tried to find a space to rest it in. I couldn’t easily craft or pull for one, though I had a number of feelings about the project, and how it affected me. When I parsed through all of the content and substance, all of the purpose and matter, all of the narrative and passion, I felt that I had spent time with a project firmly ensconced in grown folks rap. But there were so many elements that drew me to Brothers group psychotherapy rap, emotional maturity rap, purpose driven rap and family first rap. I treasure projects that are this rich in meaning and craftsmanship.
“The Beautiful” is always saying something, and means it. It moves with dexterity between tracks like “I Love You” which jump right in and cover these moments of tumult and the community’s fight for racial justice. Each verses bounces from first person, to a grand sweeping community wide view of events and the psychology of living while Black in these times. Each track, from “Maxine”, to “The Beautiful”, paints the picture of a team of men, and fathers, and thinkers and activists, trying to make sense of this chaotic time. They do this with measured thoughtfulness, a love of wordplay which comes through on each offering of “The Beautiful” and a confidence and care which makes the project one that is easy to follow and process while, and after, listening.
There is a rich language to the project, and that may come both from the maturity of the MCs who skillfully run the break and pass off to one another, or the reality of the various regions that the team’s MCs come from. South Carolina and New Mexico are represented. New Jersey and the DMV are represented. The result remains seamless, but gives the collected work the feel of a gumbo. That is rarely ever a bad thing.
I indicated that this album won’t be for everyone, and I should revisit that. The beats are secondary to the rhymes and subjects here. It doesn’t hurt “The Beautiful” in any way, rather, the approach to production allows for the beats to stay out of the way and support the power of the lyrics and each chapter of the message being carefully delivered. This project will require a few listens, and there are no tracks which are disposable. It is a project, and is meant to be consumed as a full, coherent whole.
Adults, even those with the discerning taste and distracted approach to consumption which has nearly extinguished the classic hip-hop that we call for, will find “The Beautiful” to be a project well worth their time, and the Divine Suns to be a team speaking up for a generation. It’s a powerful concept album, one driven by a team which appear to be determined to bring the true team album back. This is no squad of disparate personalities. Happenstance did not being this crew together. This is a team, building off of and with one another, and the sound they produce benefits from that cohesion.
I can recommend “The Beautiful” to you with no reservations, and will be giving it another listen as I am anxious to be good to myself.
When it drops, you be good to you too.