During high school, I spent a lot of afternoons surfing HotNewHipHop. Some of the best music I heard during those visits was part of the G.O.O.D. Friday series that led up to Kanye West's album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (2010). Most of the songs featured a lineup with enough star power to rival the Golden State Warriors. Yet, some of the newer names still made their presence felt on the songs, and one of those names was CyHi The Prynce. His verse on "Looking For Trouble" made it clear that he was a wordsmith with a unique voice, and he maintained this rep on features and mixtapes that followed. It even became known to the public that he penned some of the rhymes on Kanye's songs. Despite the buzz that his work gained for him, years went by without CyHi putting out a commercial release. But the wait for an official album is now over thanks to the release of his debut long player No Dope on Sundays.
The album's title alludes to the unwritten rule in some cities that drug dealers bring their work to a halt on Sundays. Hearing the title piqued my interest because the last impression I had of CyHi was 2014's Black Hystori Project, a mixtape that found him channeling periods and figures of Black History in a way that was more of an homage than a gimmick. The mixtape is the best project I've heard from CyHi, so seeing him use another theme for his album got my hopes up. I didn't see the title No Dope on Sundays and say, "Okay, CyHi's been reborn as a Christian rapper." But I did imagine different angles that he could take on the drug game. CyHi could detail how despite having a hustle that forsakes many Christian values, his faith still existed or even grew stronger. Or he could draw unlikely parallels between a realm of sanctity and a realm of sin. While a few moments on the album feature these angles, CyHi mainly invokes religion as a reference to help him explain his past in the streets.
The title track is the song that offers the most conversation about how a life of crime collides with Christianity. It begins with words from a pastor that emphasize repentance and prayer, and how the two practices relate to drug dealers. Near the end of the song, Pusha T appears and reveals the guilt he has over his past occupation. He says, "I couldn't justify what I did to my bro / Fed an addiction, I just let it snow / Failed my religion, I couldn't let it go / Fell in addiction, I just chased the glow / See, you don't need the drums when you just talking what you know."
The self-reflection Pusha shows here is what I thought CyHi would offer once I learned of the album title. Yet, CyHi foregoes this approach, both on the song and most of the album. Instead, he opts to preach about the dangers and ethics involved in street life, hoping to deter others from repeating his path and to guide those who have already followed in his footsteps. CyHi rhymes, "It's safe to say it's all real but all my scars is all healed / Cause I been stabbed in the back more times than Paul Pierce / But enough about my past, it's time to save our kids / So our sons will never have to live the way we all did." These lines direct him throughout the album, whether he's rhyming alone or with other emcees.
Pusha T is the first of many guests that CyHi invites onto his pulpit. He trades verses with ScHoolboy Q on "Movin' Around," but it's the song's chorus that stands out the most. It shows CyHi's willingness to experiment with melody and cadence, something that has become close to a necessity in rap's current climate. While he succeeds with the hook on "Movin' Around," CyHi comes up short on the song's verses as well as the hook for the 2 Chainz-featured "Trick Me." On the verses and chorus, CyHi uses a vocal inflection that may sound catchy to some, but sounds more like he has the hiccups to me. Another disappointment on the album is "Dat Side," which features Kanye. The song makes sense strategically; the combo of the trap sound that's dominant now and the power of Kanye's name should bring a lot of listeners to the song, and hopefully to the rest of CyHi's music. But stylistically, the song comes off like a bad rendition of Future and Drake's "Jumpman."
Some of the collaborations turn out to be missteps, but they don't completely throw CyHi's album off course. Songs like "Get Yo Money" still stand out thanks to how well CyHi balances his wordplay and his content. It's clear that giving advice is his top priority, as he indicated in an interview with Albumism earlier this year. Yet, this goal of his doesn't stop him from saying things like, "I be nervous when I rap cause I be thinking the beat tap- / pin'. You and your dogs is all bark, I'm talkin' tree sap." Then there's "Nu Africa," a song where CyHi imagines what could happen if African-Americans actually uprooted themselves from the U.S. and moved to Africa. The possibilities he lists on the song are somewhat fanciful, but they make the song provocative and show how far CyHi can push a concept.
The creativity CyHi shows on "Nu Africa" makes me believe that he could have done more with the phrase "No Dope on Sundays." CyHi mainly places the drug game and religion side by side without making much of a connection between the two. Simply juxtaposing the two ways of life can be enough to make people rethink their lives. But CyHi is capable of executing a theme much more thoughtfully than that. The album's concept has potential that goes unfulfilled, but CyHi still impresses with his bars and his messages. He does brag about his past, but he also shares a lot of painful truths and they resonate the most when he’s rhyming over soulful production. No Dope on Sundays may not be a flawless sermon, but it's enough for CyHi to grow his congregation.
Notable Tracks: “80s Baby” | “Free” | “Get Yo Money” | “Nu Africa”