By Richard Provost
Anyone who has ever seen Na-G perform is familiar with his near inexhaustible store of energy. He never stays still for long, jumping up and down, side to side – not willing to leave an inch of the stage untraversed as he dances around in a heavy jacket and boots. For Na-G, music is a social experience. It’s a chance to dance. It’s a chance to party. Na-G’s wide eyes and glowing grin are evidence that he’s having the time of his life. This is the guy that loves to “Hit the Dab,” and make GIFs of him dancing with a Mr. T impersonator.
Separate Na-G’s charismatic stage presence from his music, however, and you discover something entirely different. Yes, there’s energy on his tracks. But it’s an energy that stems from a deeply introspective place – one that’s half breezy, half brooding.
Hey Na-G opens with the smooth “LV Blvd,” an ode to his hometown of Las Vegas. You can hear his grin as he opens the song with some anthemic “Ay-oh’s.” A chorus of soulful harmonies, salted with Na-G’s carefree laughter, sing over a smooth guitar riff and a filtered beat. When the beat fills out, he enters at the top of his game with interesting rhyme schemes and well articulated bars.
What makes this track so interesting is how he paints a picture of Las Vegas duality. He discusses growing up in “the deep end of a shallow pool, lurking in the shadows ‘cuz the neon lights can be so cruel. A kid with good intentions swimming around a cesspool.” It’s a wonderful track that examines the struggles that follow breaking from tradition and defying societal constructs.
His examination of Vegas continues in “Neon Dreams.” A much darker track, Na-G tackles the temptations of Sin City. He fervently decries the love of money – the ultimate Neon Dream that makes you “stand up and live life on your knees.” Juxtaposition is king in this song, a perfect lyrical device that pits the promises of wealth against its effects. “Bright lights, they tempt, and strike at your will… the house wins every time.” This track has a killer hook, one that will stick with you when the song is over. Unfortunately, Na-G’s diction is a little sloppy on this track – not nearly as good as it was in “LV Blvd.” It took me several listens to understand what he was saying, and I was only able to decipher the lyrics after isolating specific sections and listening to them over and over again. That’s a real bummer, considering how insightful and well written the lyrics are.
“Pushing Up Daisies” opens with a great sample from The Notebook that perfectly sums up the spirit of this song. It’s really clever. The song features Mimi Knowles who provides vocals on a well written chorus as well as an additional rap verse. Unfortunately, this song fails to live up to its potential. It’s not terrible by any means, but it’s one of the weaker tracks on the album when it should have been the strongest. The song suffers for two reasons: 1) Both Na-G and Mimi’s bars have weak flow, primarily because of issues with syllabic stress and awkward word choice, and 2) There are some distracting mix issues. The hook is way too good to get buried in a muddy mix.
“Swans Dance” has a chorus that sounds radio worthy – Chad Truman’s vocals are awesome. The reverb and synth bleeps give the track a very Shock Value feel to it. This is a short track, but it does what it does well.
Easily the best track on the album, “Amelia’s Song” is all breeze, no brood. The chorus borrows a structural device from Jason Derulo’s “Trumpets,” but does so in such a way that it feels familiar but not contrived. The song is also much more sensitive and much less bombastic than “Trumpets.” The synth string swells in the background of the first chorus lead to a cool drop in the second verse, where the drums become more organic and a piano fills out the sonic space. The bridge is nothing short of inspired. This song deserves much more recognition than it has.
“Dream Catcher” is surprisingly sparse and soulful. This track is moody. It’s a slow burner that steadily builds to a satisfying lyrical climax. “Trouble turning my dad to the bottle. I found my faith in the grave, now I’m turning to the bible. I’ll keep chasing dreams ’til this vision’s suicidal. This – this is my lyrical revival.” That line alone is enough to make this a good song in my book.
A brilliant follow up to “Dream Catcher,” “War” features Eric Michels, the lead singer of Foreign Figures. His contribution to the track helps take it to another level – one that is cinematic in scope. The bass line really helps this song groove, and the arpeggiator that enters when the chorus hits keeps things from getting stale. There’s a fantastic glitch drop at 1:34, and 2:18 to the end brings the song to a frantic close.
“Breaking Bad” is simply killer. The Walter White clip in the beginning does for “Breaking Bad” what The Notebook clip did for “Pushing Up Daisies,” only this time around the track that follows delivers on every level. This is a killer glitch track. If “Amelia’s Song” is all breeze, no brood, this song is its opposite. Everything, from Na-G’s frenetic, effected voice cracks and growls to the added sound effects is perfectly placed. It’s as if everything in the album was building to this track. It even has a Vegas reference to tie things back to the beginning. “Breaking Bad” is a satisfying closer.
Overall, Hey Na-G is a success. As Na-G continues to write and perform, the minor inconsistencies that show through in his writing will work themselves out. Varied, well-produced tracks like “War,” “Amelia’s Song,” and “Breaking Bad” will win him fans. Hey Na-G is a prime example of what the Provo rap scene is capable of. Here’s to hoping other rappers can keep up.