Black Sheep Get COSIGNed
By Chris “Chris P: Local Celebrity” Panayiotou

It’s been a full year without a new project and a XXL Freshmen list nomination that didn’t manifest into a magazine cover appearance. 2013 saw the release of 3 albums and 2 mix tapes, and 2014 had a spoiled-by-music fan base jonesing for something, anything new. They got a few stray songs, some features and 3 remixes that added other rappers’ verses to previously released material. But finally, Starlito, Nashville’s ever-so-slept-on best MC, dropped “Black Sheep Don’t Grin,” the latest installment of his signature December 15 birthday releases.

This is his triumphant return, but was he ever really gone? A 5 project per year pace is probably unsustainable for anyone, and after stating his ultimate focus is ensuring quality product by taking his time, this rationing of releases shouldn’t have been a surprise. It does seem to have been worth the wait though.

There is a more somber tone to “Black Sheep Don’t Grin” than in recent works. “[I] poured some pieces of my soul in to it,” said ‘Lito on social media, “MY ALBUM IS/WAS MY EVERYTHING…” So to talk verse structure, wordplay and wit (which are always consistently superior) would take away from the fact that the true takeaway from this project is the honest and personal subject matter. This isn’t party music, hollow verses of “how cool I am” or rapping for the sake of rapping. This sits somewhere between confession, motivation, reflection, and guilt; the dark, yet intellectual narrative of wins and losses in life, whether regarding interpersonal relationships or in the streets.

The overall theme is one of the complexities and contrasts of one’s character, something that people, in today’s all-or-nothing/black-and-white world, often write off as contradiction & hypocrisy. He is an intelligent and introspective gangster with a desire to do and be better; a repentant yet not quite reformed sinner of sorts; a braggart of a depressed and lonely soul.

From top to bottom this theme persists. Starlito begins “Mood Swings & Mrs.” with “I got this vision in my head of this new and improved me, don’t approve then so be it,” an unapologetic declaration of self-growth, while intertwined with apologies for his past transgressions, just a few bars later. “My Love Lost” is the emptiness that leads him to infidelity and the emptiness that results, which appear to be one and the same. The back-to-back tracks “She Just Want The Money” and “I Just Want The Money” contrast his disdain for her character, yet champions that same element as a component of his own character and his desire for success. Even the album’s title, a play on words, portrays the theme of the great contrasts of his being. The black sheep is the shamed, but is shameless enough to never adorn the sheepish grin.

Melancholy production compliments the contents of the verses, and while quite often features can be the weakness of any project, that’s not the case with BSDG. Kevin Gates, Don Trip, Young Dolph, Dee-1, Petty, WILX, and Yo Gotti all touch the album, and deliver solid to stellar sixteens.

Unfortunately, this project will either fly under the radar or over the heads of the average music consumer, but it is yet another grand addition (perhaps his best to-date) to an already impressive catalog. Starlito claims to “Give you a million dollars worth of game for a dollar 29 cent,” and multiply that by 13 songs, it seems like a good investment.

“Black Sheep Don’t Grin” gets our COSIGN.

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