Sometimes you forget that it can be simple. It’s even easier to forget that simplicity is often the hardest thing to achieve. “Monochrome” is one of those songs that sounds deceptively easy. As though all L’ Orange and Stik Figa had to do was wake up, slice a soul sample to pieces and spit some cerebral thoughts. This is why it’s effective. This is one of those songs that’s like watching a graceful outfielder slowly lope to catch a fly ball, but if you looked close you’d see how fast his legs were spinning.
“Monochrome” is the first single from next month’s Mello Music Group release, The City Under the City. In one corner, there is North Carolina’s L’ Orange, previously best known for collaborations with Blu and flipping Billie Holiday to induce greater sadness. In the middle of the map is Topeka’s Stik Figa, who is not to be confused with the guy from Dead Prez. I made this mistake for a minute and this is to be regretted. Stik writes subtly effective insular lyrics in the old underground style. Not the lyrical spiritual nonsense, but the side of rap where you were slotted if you tended towards non-violent confessionals.
There is a sense of nostalgia here. He’s “waxing poetic over past aesthetics,” yet it’s not overly sentimental. No pining for easier days or better music. There’s a desire for more passion and the escape from purgatory. There’s the desire to “paint the block in a motif of grief bleeding.” A “sub-zero planet almost froze him.” This is saturnine and soulful rap without the softness. You can still catch a fade by the tilt of your hat. It’s about the realization that the old days weren’t necessarily brighter, even if the music tended to bump harder. It’s a canvas where throwing shade and shades of grey collide. Maybe it seems anachronistic in the modern day climate of rap, but there’s a timelessness to good beats and good raps. That’s usually all it takes.