The Ivory Stoop
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The blue-collar town of Baltimore, Maryland has always fought hard to garner national attention. Less than 50 miles north of Washington D.C., the stories of working-class men and women clashing inside rowhomes or bars after grueling 12-hour shifts, or the teenage tales that comprise a criminal underworld within the decaying neighborhoods, are easily overshadowed in such proximity to the world’s political epicenter.
Seemingly unfazed by the daunting task of being the spokesperson for an entire city, homegrown talent Jay Royale grabs the mic, poised to take a run as the embedded correspondent to share the organic narrative of the Baltimore experience with the world via his debut album.
For many, HBO’s acclaimed early 2000’s series The Wire was the first glimpse into the complexities of a city that competes for the dubious recognition of America’s leader in violent crime per capita. Over a decade since The Wire’s culmination, Jay Royale invites listeners to take a seat atop one of Baltimore’s signature Ivory Stoops for a more intimate and skillful detailing of an often-overlooked urban perspective.
In “Half Moon Caesars,” Jay delivers his story as a hip-hop aficionado growing up in the early ‘90s, paying homage to the New York City emcees whose mixtapes quickly made their way down I-95 South for a ravished fan base, with lyrics like “I would clone the fly poems of Nasir Jones / but how would I try to mimic / they would think I’m a gimmick.” The song’s beat, which was produced by Mute Won with added cuts by DJ Grasshoppa, serves as the duel tribute to rap gods Raekwon and Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan from their 1995 song “Ice Water,” which also inspired the song title.
Continuing with the album’s major theme of celebrating nostalgia, Jay tags in Bossman Da God, who is a mainstay within the local hip-hop community, for the song “The Ode (For the Bubblegum Sole).” The two trade bars about their early observations of the fly footwear of the street legends of the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Arguably the home base for hip-hop’s current underground movement with their natives who created the imprint Griselda Records, the city of Buffalo, New York is represented on two guest features. The first Baltimore-meets-Buffalo collaboration is “The Iron” featuring rising star Benny The Butcher, followed by “Walk With A Gun,” which showcases the Griselda collective frontman Conway The Machine and Jay’s frequent home team associate Ill Conscious. Jay’s ability to secure the star-power of current gun-bar royalty helps solidify The Ivory Stoop as an essential item in the anti-mumble-rap movement.
The Ivory Stoop is also consistent in the authenticity of its street journalism. Baltimore stories are often melancholy, to the point of becoming tragic, as Jay adeptly pins the lines, “Baltimore City, where the niggas that’ll kill me will be in pictures with me / you see how the shit went with Big and Diddy / when they be out to get you it’s kinda hard movin’ without a pistol / my autobiography is that of a Malcolm Little” for the song that references Malcolm X’s birth name.
The Ivory Stoop is a well-crafted album that maximizes Jay Royale’s abilities as an emcee with a savvy choice of production expertise, including veterans Jsoul, who added the cinematic score to “Vintage Garments,” along with Ray Sosa who produced five of the LP’s twelve tracks. The album also gives hope to a city that has endured its fight to escape hip-hop obscurity, by proving that it may have a vital voice in the modern-day resurgence of lyricism after all.
Notable Tracks: "Half Moon Caesars" | “Malcolm Little” | "The Iron" | “Vintage Garments” | “Walk With A Gun”