By Nick Sligh
Few emerging artists exemplify the diversity of sounds in modern hip-hop like Topaz Jones. Though still in the very beginning stages of building out his discography, Topaz has established a strong foundation for his artistry with his 2014 debut mixtape “The Honeymoon Suite” and his 2016 debut album “Arcade.” Soul and funk are present throughout all of Topaz’s music, and they help to build a unique sound and character on the mic for the New Jersey rapper.
Since his last project in 2016, Topaz has been quiet, but not silent. Three two-track EPs have dropped in the meantime. In his solo artistry, most notably there has been “For the Better” and “Toothache,” a duo of 2018 singles. Topaz also has provided captivating features over the last few years, most notably with a standout feature on Leven Kali’s hit “Homegirl” with a fantastic, soulful verse to close out the feel-good song.
“Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma” comes into its April 23 release by way of an incredibly unique trajectory. The short film accompanying the album won the Sundance Film Festival’s Award for “Best Non-Fiction Short Film.” Topaz has proved that his artistry stretches far beyond music, and it will be intriguing to see how the short film and album work to complement each other.
Here are my track-by-track reactions and overall initial impressions of “Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma.”
Topaz Jones: “Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma” (April 23, 2021)
1.“Mirror” ft. Leven Kali
Fitting to the name of the song, the intro sets the tone for the album with introspective reflection. A smooth beat is matched by an equally smooth flow and impressive bars from Topaz to start things off. A really soothing chorus comes in from Leven Kali, somebody that Topaz has some history with now in collaboration, to close out a solid intro.
The second of the two lead singles for the album, “D.I.A.L.” sees Topaz continue with the theme of reflection, but this time turning the time frame way back. Topaz floats between various intonations and periods in his childhood as he lays out different narratives of his youth. There’s a personal feel being built out between the soulful chorus and the personal writing, and the rapping ability is on full display with the flow switches that come rapidly and keep the deliveries refreshing.
“Can’t we just get along this evening? Ain’t no need for that fussing and carrying on … Just a little bit of family dysfunction, we all got it, we all got it.” The chorus perfectly sums up the themes that Topaz elaborates on here. The sole verse is a fantastic one, providing an inside look at the family dynamics surrounding Topaz’s youth. Again, the lyricism and delivery is top notch, and the verse is closed with a really strong outro: “The bad habits, the trust issues, the marriage woes / We inherit those, until the day we have some kids of our very own / And we pass it all down like a herringbone.”
4. “Black Tame”
“Black Tame” sees Topaz reflecting on women and relationships over some heavy funk and soul-infused production. A fun track with great bounce and energy, there is phenomenal writing once again and a trio of great verses that really make the song. The last verse slows down the pace, and Topaz delivers some fantastic lyricism around common perceptions of certain types of women in modern society: “But so goes the saga / If she can make more than her momma, While walkin’ in them clunky Balenciagas / Who am I to judge it?”
5. “Baba 70s”
Now there is a bit of a darker twist in the album, with some more dim lyrics, a heavy-bass guitar in the beat and more rock-influenced production. “Baba 70s” gets into some of the harsh experiences of youth as a Black man in America and the reflections that Topaz now has in retrospect. The shift in tone looks at some of the same thematics from the first four songs but with a much gloomier atmosphere.
6. “Amphetamines” ft. anaiis
“Amphetamines” feels like a radiating ball of summer sunshine. Even with the super feel-good production and the more laid-back vibe of the track, Topaz doesn’t slack at all with the writing. A very long chorus takes up over a minute and a half and then transitions into a remarkable verse. The slight and brief beat switch puts Topaz’s verse on the kind of production that I have always felt that his style is absolutely perfect for: an accelerated, soulful, synth-heavy and feel-good sound. It’s obvious at this point in the album that Topaz has one of the best flows in all of rap and has some of the very best writing as well.
Topaz opens over a really slow beat with an effortless flow and lyricism. The relaxed intro finds Topaz drifting in a dreamy nostalgia, reflecting on his youth once again. Halfway through this song, we get a beat switch and a switch of time frame. Now looking at the present, refreshing and feel-good production comes in and Topaz matches it with a variety of flows and a flawless delivery. One of the best songs on the album, with such an entertaining structure and a great performance.
A brief intro about Topaz’s grandfather quickly transitions into a hard-hitting, eerie and electronic beat. This is a different style than I have seen him present at really any point in his discography, and this fresh sound for him is executed incredibly well. The emotional potency of every bar throughout the album is astounding. Every punchline and bar comes with a soulful darkness and a perfect fit over the beat. The drastically impassioned delivery and varied flows lead to one of my favorite vocal performances and overall songs across the album.
9. “Who?” ft. Maxo and Phonte
Another strong track with really thoughtful writing, “Who?” brings in the only feature verses on the album with Maxo and Phonte. The first feature, Maxo’s verse, is probably my personal low-point of the album, as the guest verse just doesn’t match nearly the energy and lyrical quality that Topaz has brought with his verses throughout the album. I even say this as somebody who is a fan of Maxo’s solo work. Topaz comes in with a great second verse with more fantastic bars. Phonte, an all-time underrated rapper, comes in with a bluntly authentic verse to finish out the song. “Who?” is a thoughtful reflection by these rappers on Black identity and the Black experience, and done in a sonically impressive fashion.
10. “Gold” ft. Floyd Fuji
For an artist with such an elite level of versatility, it’s no surprise to see so many styles and sounds across the project. “Gold” comes in with smooth and bass-heavy production to lay the foundation for lustful and romantic verses. The lyrics are still clever as always, showing Topaz can write incredibly well on basically any topic.
“Rich” is another summertime anthem. The upbeat, tropical-esque production builds an atmosphere of positivity and joyous energy. The most lighthearted and comedic song on the tracklist, this one just provides such a refreshing presence in the album.
12. “Blue” ft. Gabriel Garzón-Montano
“Blue” takes a sharp turn from the previous track and comes in with an almost purely somber perspective on various issues in life. The song addresses many of the inequities and injustices that lead to sadness in the life of an unfortunately significant number of Black Americans: unemployment, police brutality, corporate racism, lack of opportunity. Another top-notch display of writing.
The outro takes an adventurous and creative approach to design an intriguing story. The title “Buggin’” plays off of the double meaning of the word: Topaz’s elaborate trip evolves into a contemplation of the life of the tiny insects all around us, comparing them to various figures and archetypes common in life and society and using them to build out stories. The extensive wordplays and elongated metaphors establish an abundantly creative outro and the end to a terrific album.
Overall, I am incredibly impressed with Topaz’s sophomore album. From front to back, many of the technical aspects were nearly flawless. The album structure and track layout allowed the entire listen to feel like a cinematic experience. The thematics, following different aspects of Topaz’s experiences growing up as a Black man in America, are thoughtfully delivered and held with exceptional consistency. The narrative, touching everything from familial relations to cultural conceptions in romantic relationships to societal structures and inequities, is crafted with grace and creativity.
The rapping ability on display is the highest that it has been at any point of his career and the writing throughout the album is phenomenal. Topaz presents a wide array of highly-skilled and refreshing flows, deliveries and intonations, hitting a diversity of vocal delivery that few artists in modern hip-hop can match. Topaz picked a lot of fitting beats that were able to convey a nostalgic feel with lots of relaxed soul and funk vibes, while also incorporating a modern twist in areas.
Taking such an intricate and artistic approach to the construction of an album is becoming increasingly rare, and it is refreshing to watch it happen here. Topaz is truly creating his own lane and not replicating the style and sound of anybody else. Topaz Jones is one of the more original, creative and talented artists currently in hip-hop, and “Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma” cements that.
Favorite Songs: “Sourbelts,” “D.O.A.,” “Amphetamines,” “Rich”
Album Score: 87/100