Sage Elsesser, also known as Navy Blue, has released his fourth studio album Ways of Knowing. This recent release is also his debut album with Def Jam. Sage Elsesser is a man of many talents as he is a rapper, producer, songwriter, model, painter, and professional skater. Elsesser was an early affiliate of Odd Future and is a childhood friend of former member, Earl Sweatshirt. In 2015, Sage was the art director of Earl Sweatshirt’s I Don’t Like Sh*t I Don’t Go Outside. The initial recognition Sage had garnered was independent of music. Elsesser first received widespread attention when he became a model for Supreme in 2012 at the age of 15. And in 2014, Elsesser became a professional skater with the skate collective and streetwear brand “F*cking Awesome.” Additionally, at the age of 18, Elsesser became the youngest winner of the best new artist award at the Guild Hall Artist Exhibition for his painting titled “Hard to Forget.”
Sage’s artistic ventures spread across many fronts, and even with all of these other talents, he is currently one of the most gifted artists in hip-hop.
In a four-year span (2015-2019), Sage released a series of 10 EPs before releasing his debut album Ada Irin in February 2020. Since then, Elsesser has released three more albums, and perhaps his notable work up to this point is Song of Sage: Post Panic! (2020). Which is considered in some circles to be a modern-day underground classic. This was my introduction to his work under the alias of Navy Blue.
With this new album, Navy diversifies sound. The drumless sound synonymous with underground abstract hip hop is less present, despite Navy Blue being one of the faces of that artistic movement. Budgie, a producer known for his r&b, chipmunk soul, and gospel sampling, produced all 13 tracks on the album. The production was a major strong point for the album and played a major role in consistently coming back to this record. Navy Blue’s style of rapping meshed beautifully with Budgie’s production. With the different choices in production, this record has slightly more mass appeal than other Navy Blue albums. But even with this, the quality of music was not compromised at all, nor was the introspectiveness, openness, or vulnerability of Navy Blue’s lyrics which are some of his defining qualities artistically. His lyrics have a very raw feel, and there seems to always be a lot of emotion infused into whatever he writes. Navy is just as much of a poet, as he is a rapper, and these are perhaps my favorite qualities of Navy Blue as an artist. He is the most vulnerable, honest, and introspective emcee I’ve ever heard on a mic. His music has a therapeutic feel and has been a source of comfort for me at times. These qualities are what set him apart from any other rapper, and any other emcee within the same artistic movement.
Ways of Knowing is a continuance of his path of growth, battles with grief, maintenance of self-love, love of family, love of ancestors, and sustaining devotion to his spiritual journey. Thematically, Ways of Knowing does not do all that much to stand out from his other albums. The main differences lie in the production, and song structure. With this, there are more songs with hooks, more singing implemented, more instrumentals that utilize drums, and a more diverse range of samples. The samples on this album range from gospel to reggae, to r&b, and chipmunk soul. The record stays quite consistent in quality, and the only low point on the album would probably be the third track, “The One.” This track really did not stand out from the rest of the album, and was a bit underwhelming in comparison to the majority of other songs. However, some of my favorite songs on this record include: “The Medium,” “Chosen,” “To Fall in Love,” “Phases,” “Killswitch,” “Pillars,” and “Shadow’s Shield.” After my first listen, I was hooked on this record, and my enjoyment of it steadily increased with more time. It has been a while since an album has moved me as much as this one has. With that being said, I highly suggest this album to anyone who enjoys hip-hop, and I look forward to whatever is in store next for Navy Blue.