What does being black mean to you? Outside of it simply being a race, to me it is culture that is impenetrable. Yes we go through our ups and downs as black men and women but we also tend to overcome. With the dark history, particularly in America, that our ancestors have endured they never gave up as a people.
This being said, part of the reason I feel this is true is our ability to pass down knowledge from one generation to the next and use it to our advantage. This has carried over to music as well. Every decade there are plenty of examples of messages being delivered to our peers and youth in a sonic format.
One of the lastest artists to do so on an indie level is none other than IZ-316. The artist/producer hails from Wichita, Kansas and has released his latest project “Melanin Sons”. As indicative by the name, it revolves around his experiences as a black man and his aim to inspire those like him.
“My goal is to inspire Black men globally to reach their full potential inspite of what their current conditions might be. I want to show that someone does feel their pain. Additionally, I want young people to know that it’s cool to be righteous minded.”
Melanin Sons begins with the title track and is a master class in storytelling. Here we hear a conversation between Iz and a young man who is in high school. He paints a vivid picture from both perspectives on how teenage years can be a burden and also how to keep your head up throughout them. Often times at such a young age a black man can start to feel like a failure. Shaking that mind frame is just a part of becoming a better group of people. Furthermore I appreciate the mentoring aspect of this record as I’m sure some of the younger listeners can relate.
Breana Marin makes the lone guest appearance of the project on “Top Down”. She provides a smooth hook that helps to symbolize the care free nature of riding with the top down. Lyrically Iz-316 gets a bit braggadocios, flexing his pen with some standout punchlines. “I ain’t into slipping, I’m just into winning. I might sign a deal but for now I’m independent.” Boasts like these make the track an enjoyable one.
The soulful sample on “Cycles” captures the ear instantaneously. The slow-brooding track is perfect for Iz-316’s flow style and voice. He attacks the beat with a laid back flow, but keeps it lyrically on point speaking about the cycles that can keep the Black race down. Prison, poverty, racism and more are all addressed in a package that is easy to listen to. He balances the line of spreading knowledge and making your head nod to perfection.
“Black Man” has a title that stuck out to me when looking at the tracklist and it did the same while listening to “Melanin Sons”. It begins with a lifted conversation from Stokley Carmichael. It sets the time perfectly as Iz-316 goes back into his bag writing the song in a conversational nature. He is literally speaking to, for lack of better words, his niggas and his sisters. The production is once again perfect for his cadence and style.
On “MARS” Iz-316 ponders on the universe around him. More particularly he wonders if there is life on other planets and if those lives deal with the same racial struggles we deal with here. Not only a strong song concept but just a great question in general.
It’s no secret that as black people we don’t tend to eat the most healthy food. Part of this has to do with the struggles to attain food our ancestors had to deal with while living on plantations. Nonetheless it’s something we should pay more attention to. This is the message Iz spreads on the next record “Eat Better, Sleep Better”. Again, he does a great job at not sounding as if he is preaching to the listener. Instead he shares his own struggle with this in a relatable fashion.
“Better Late Than Never” is a lesson in patience and being yourself. With so many people doing the same thing, Iz-316 encourages people to just do them. “I place my faith in facts and not the things I cannot prove. Is the earth round or flat, I guess that’s up to you.” Admittedly this wasn’t one of my favorites of the 10 presented on “Melanin Sons” but the message within is still a great one to share.
Arguably my favorite piece of production on the album comes with “Rush To Grow Up”. The horns and keys are extremely pleasant to me. As far as the bars go Iz shines again with his smoothest flows of the set from a delivery standpoint. Thematically he shares his thoughts on how we as black men need to step up in an effort to help the youth. On the other side he speaks on how he didn’t want to receive the good advice from his O.G.’s growing up.
We approach the end of the album with the uplifting “Let It Go”. It’s a record about letting go of hate and not harboring it. Over the years it’s not hard to gain angst towards people or things that have caused you pain. Iz wants to let you know it can only help to move past it all.
Things conclude in a major way with “Freedom Or Death”. Over pounding percussion and a soul sample Iz creates a sound and hook that feels like an anthem. As he gives an ultimate of receiving “all or nothing” in this world, he lets be known that his self-worth is high and he wants yours to be too. Great record to be the outro.
All things considered, I enjoyed vibing to Melanin Sons. Though the subject matter is pretty heavy throughout, it never really feels like an album that solely depends on it’s topics. A lot of lyricists tend to forget that music is more than just what is being said. Iz-316 does a fine job of bringing a message but also keeping things flavorful. If you’re looking for something to keep your Black pride high after Black History Month look no further than “Melanin Sons”.