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  • Cy White

Stokely: Sankofa

This is just pure good. It just feels good. Sounds good. Stokely is that connection to my childhood that will always make me remember how good it was. How sweet. Not simple, not for me, not for many. But certainly there was some good, some great that we could cling onto. Those moments carried us through, brought us to where we are right now.

Sankofa feels like a gift to those who survived and made it this far. Made it past centuries of pain, hatred, hell even just the past two years of unconscionable evil, disease, death. This is a piece of both acknowledgment and celebration. It just feels so damn good to be embraced by nostalgia like this. Embraced, not pandered to or belittled by. Not a gimmick, because there's nothing but sincerity from corner to corner. Damn.

This is one of those albums that actually makes it easy to understand when people say, "They don't make music like they used to." I don't necessarily acknowledge the perjorative vindictiveness of the statement. But I certainly get it now. Because this touched my heart instantly, transporting me without even trying.

This is truly the meaning of "Sankofa": looking back to move forward. Every inch of this album adheres to the principle of the Akan proverb. Making use of the past (Snoop Dogg, New Jack Swing, funk and 808-driven slow jamz), the present (H.E.R., shades of "alternative" R&B that borrows from the Rhodes-soaked soul of Stevie Wonder's Golden Age) and guiding us to what could be an incredibly melodic future. Unlike the aforementioned sentiments of the jaded past generations, Stokely imagines a future full of great potential, nuance and vision. A future that draws on and reveres what came before to move us forward. I can't help but appreciate the positivity radiating from this album.

I have a deep fondness for the "Juicy Fruit"-inspired "Cascade" featuring The Bonfyre. I'm even more overwhelmed with appreciation for the overt homage to Prince with track "Rush" featuring H.E.R. (The fact that Prince runs all over and through this track should surprise no one who's even a casual fan of the songstress/guitarist.)

Track "Lost" does an astounding job tying the entire album together. It reminds me very much of the album construction for D'angelo's Voodoo. The enigmatic artist nestles in this wheelhouse, making use of experimentation to broaden the genre, then ends the album on a piece that grounds it in the heart of its namesake ("Africa").

While Stokely's "Lost" is larger in scope, it's no less impactful and really steeps the album in the overarching message. The manner in which he hints at the core thematic narrative, while overt, enriches the experience. Each interlude adds a layer, sonic illustrations of the proverb. Then we reach the moment the entire album's been building to: "Sankofa." A sweeping, elegant piece of music that reaches deep to the core. Brings out the part of me calling to a home I've never known but that's always been a part of me.

I buy into Stokely's nostalgia so much more than many that have come out recently as a gimmick because the Mint Condition drummer and lead vocalist was there. This is the music he lives, so the way the music makes use of those conventions is inherent. This isn't shits and giggles for him or a misguided attempt at "homage." Sankofa is an authentic nod to '90s R&B and the ground-breaking musicians and musical constructs that came before. An album that understands what made those formulas work while embracing nuance, experimentation and genre-bending to add an extra layer of intrigue.

Thank you, Stokely, for the gift, the vision and the adherence to Sankofa.

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