There’s nothing quite like experiencing an artist at the height of their powers. Watching them make the magic happen the only way they know how. You wonder each time out if this is as good as it’ll get. Have they reached their pinnacle of creative power? Should I savor this just a little more? Sometimes it is. Sometimes they never quite reach the heights of what came before. Sometimes, though, an artist keeps capturing the magic the universe keeps offering and they turn it into something even more spectacular than before.
Such is the case with Sankofa.
Sankofa is a Midwestern rapper with the scope of the entire globe in his brain. He writes songs that tell tales and speaks truth. The truth as he sees it.
I’ve never been an expert on hip hop. I heard things I liked and things that made me feel something deep down. Old school soul samples sprawled over 3 or 4 minutes of soul searching and attempts to get down to something real. De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising, Run DMC’s King of Rock, Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, and A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory were a few hip hop records that meant something to me. I wasn’t a scholar. I liked what I liked.
I liked Sankofa.
In-particular, I liked Sankofa’s Ink From Rust. I knew of this hip hop guy from Fort Wayne named Stephen that rapped under the name Sankofa, but until this album I hadn’t really dived into his musical world. I loved that he was such a prolific master of language. He possessed a gilded tongue and wrote from within himself. Real life re-wired his brain to become more empathetic to not just what was around him, but what wasn’t. Whether he was rapping about the education system, being a dad, or the beauty of a Bravas hot dog, he did so with absolute conviction.
Since Ink From Rust in 2017, Sankofa has released a continuously impressive string of releases. 100 Magnets, 102 Magnets, and Where we find ourselves. He has now just released his newest album, and I believe this is the best Sankofa album yet. $5,000 Flashlights is inspired, buzzing with life, and filled with some of the best production you’ll hear on a rap record this year. Sankofa is on fire.
From the get go $5,000 Flashlights is in gear. Opener “Apple Coke Classics” has some impressive scratching(courtesy of DJ Konfewshus)and a 70s funk groove as Sankofa raps “Bobby Knight’s a gum flapper, Gene Keady means business, Plus he’s got a helmet made of hair that gleams wicked, You’d need arm replacement trying to hit his armored melon, A Purdue hat, I could use that as a shark repellent”. There’s some definite nods to Indiana college basketball, but all delivered in a confident cadence. “Burn The Cape” flows along on a street-level groove and string samples as Sankofa raps and lays it out simply, “And when the smoke has cleared, it’s nothing but my silhouette, Steve Caballero, standing over you with a tilted neck, I’m Jesus Christ in your temple, it’s time to bill collect, A stage strong enough to hold me, man they haven’t built it yet”.
Each song here flows and buzzes. “Mom Jeans Cowboy”, “Mouth that’s Starving”, and “Rebar Bones” pull you in effortlessly. Agent Orange’s production on $5,000 Flashlights is tight and impeccable, giving Sankofa’s tracks an added depth. A Sankofa joint is never much of the boom/bap kind of hip hop. His is always very much in the old school vibes. Agent Orange keeps that going here with a sound very reminiscent of the late great J Dilla, as well as Madlib.
Over the course of its 10 tightly constructed tracks, $5,000 Flashlights proves that Sankofa is still writing and recording at the very top of his game. His rhymes are smart, funny, and socially conscious, all delivered with the bravado of a man who knows the power he wields. Sankofa is the pied piper we all should be following right now.
8.3 out of 10
$5,000 Flashlights is out now. Buy it here.