Before The Funeral was, for a while at least, by personal Detox. Desperate for more collaborations (and music in general) from ludicrously talented producer/rapper Slydahmer and one of the true modern god MC’s ThugYeezy, I had to make do with the singles ‘Eighteen’ and ‘Neighbours’ for the last half a year. Of course, both those songs are practically flawless, the former an enormously personal effort and the latter an epic rap off with features from SeKwence and Alpine. ‘Eighteen’ features an outstanding verse from Yeezy, his raps touching heavily on his youth and the desperation and loneliness that can be associated with it. ‘I never wanted money or tinted SUV’s, I barely love life someone rescue me. And the only girl I ever loved let me down, f it, should have gave it more effort’, for the record I still love you like I’m eighteen’ caps off his first set of lyrics, leading into the downcast, sombre hook. ‘Neighbours’ is more Sly’s game, and his head nod-including hook is only one part of his performance. Honestly, there’s little point comparing Sly’s style to any of the rappers he somewhat sounds like, it’s lazy and takes away from the unique energy that he brings to each and every one of his bars. ‘Spit liquid nitrogen, these writers hike when I come in and Sly done been the dopest since day 1. So pray, run or get your face stung by Shang Tsung’ concludes his epic intro monologue.
I could spend all day talking about ‘Neighbours’ (in particular how amazing Sek’s verse is), but that song is five months old and we now have eight brand new SlyYeezy songs to take in. Despite the title of the project, this is far from a grim, gritty lyrical battle and more of a soulful retread of everything that makes the two rapper’s music so excellent. One of Yeezy’s greatest tracks, ‘The Night’, uses a Sly beat and there’s a further two examples of that here, including the opener ‘Death Parade’. Sly murders his boom bap-come-music box production, sounding more confident than ever before. When Yeezy takes over, his satisfying blend of righteous smugness and venomous lyrical flair is as effective as ever. The duo really couldn’t be any more different as rappers, as one delivers dramatic, flashy bars and one creeps in the cut with a calculated, quietly cocky flair.
Perhaps the best example of how the two rappers create chemistry is on ‘Nicky Barnes Meets Jeffrey Dahmer’, which as well as having one of the nicest beats on the project (the sampled soul harmonies work wonders as the track’s melodic backbone) contains some of the sharpest rap-trading on the whole project. Sly’s bars are hilarious: ‘We dumping bodies in the fucking river, a couple bitches on my nuts til my son delivered’, and create a real challenge for Yeezy to live up to. By contrast, it’s Yeezy who stands out the most on the eerie ‘If It Moves, Kill It’. ‘Everyday I’m living life like I’m inches from death, I’m close to the climb I feel it just an inch from the steps.’ and ‘I’ll spark it in the parking lot, there’s no one like me dog these other n***** talk a lot. Masked up like a jabberwocky ‘cept we ain’t pop and lockin’ bitch I’m locked in tryna pop something.’ are the two biggest takeaways from one of his most breathtaking verses.
Healthy competition is vital in any duo, and I’m happy to report that both artists reach their creative peak here. My two favourite songs actually fall in the second half of the project, firstly ‘Diamondback’ offers Sly’s greatest hook and rawest verse (you can really feel pain in this one), and secondly the title track rears its head as the most beautiful soundscape that Before The Funeral offers. The beat to this song is instrumentally complex, but everything merges together into a beautiful whole. Yeezy handles the hook, recalling his anthemic efforts on last year’s Soon It Will All Make Sense. There’s something powerfully nostalgic about this song, it acts as explanation for the project’s theme as a whole and ends with an appropriately sombre O’Jays excerpt. It would be a disservice to both artists so say that this project was anything less than excellent, in its best moments it offers the greatest music either have made and even in its worst its still a remarkably well-produced and performed hip-hop record. Outstanding stuff, and well worth the wait.
Listen to the project in full right here.