There’s an infamous scene in the 2001 film Baby Boy where Omar Gooding’s character, Sweatpea, kneels down in prayer before plotting to kill: “I know you understand that n—-s ain’t perfect, but we try lord … if you can’t show us the way, then forgive us for being lost.”
Cydel Young, better-known as CyHi The Prynce, spent a good deal of his childhood in the church, and God has been ever-present in his rhymes. But somewhere along the way, the G.O.O.D. Music rapper heralded for his lyrical assists, found a life in which drugs and murder swirled overhead. But the light at the end of the tunnel was always waiting on him, a light he tirelessly pursues on his first proper album, No Dope on Sundays.
Life in the streets of Atlanta is often looked at through rose-colored glasses. But there are cracks in Young’s spectacles; selling drugs isn’t a friendly profession. “Can’t lie, the street shit is mesmerizing/ Never realize what you jeopardizing ’til the Feds arriving,” CyHi raps on “Murda,” over Ini Kamoze’s oft-sampled “World-A-Music.” “Movin’ Around,” featuring ScHoolboy Q, presents the making of a hunter’s mentality. Hood politics are not to be glamorized. They are an act of necessity and a last resort. The tales he tells aren’t exactly pretty, but he does his best to at least forge understanding.
Though the tracklist boasts many stellar features (ScHoolboy Q, Estelle, Jagged Edge), it is no surprise that his G.O.O.D. Music label affiliates (Pusha T, founder Kanye West, Travis Scott and 2 Chainz) make the biggest splash, considering the years of established chemistry and rapport on and off the mic. The synergy between CyHi and 2 Chainz is the most formidable on “Trick Me.” The easygoing piano provides the perfect setup for the fellow Atlantan, long known for his finesse. Self-proclaimed “cocaine cowboy” Pusha T expresses remorse for his drug-dealing past in a rare state of vulnerability on the title track: “Fed an addiction, I just let it snow/ Failed my religion, I couldn’t let it go.”
The second half of the album yields to forgiveness, happiness and freedom. “Nu Africa” imagines a utopian paradise where black people can live freely: “What if Jay and Bey went and bought some land in Egypt?/ And Puffy put a stripper club off the sands of Kenya?” Performance poet Ernestine Johnson envisions “Walking through Jerusalem in Yeezy Boosts before the exile.”
“Don’t Know Why” seeks clarity of the motivations behind the drug game; “Get Yo Money” earlier details that money accounts in part, but CyHi hypothesizes it runs deeper than that.
No Dope on Sundays sounds like Sundays. Drums, piano, organs and choirs. Smooth jazz coincides with the slothiness of the day. There are deviants, such as the Kanye West-featured “Dat Side,” a celebratory club anthem, which brings ScHoolboy Q’s Kanye-featured “THat Part” to mind in its format and style. He teams up with Travis Scott on “I’m Fine” in a place of contentment knowing certain vices have bid him adieu.
But you can also hear the sin — troubled bass, the tones of remorse and aggression. “No Dope On Sundays” is a particularly complex contrast of right and wrong. Zealous preachers and Bible verses share spaces with wise, rugged OGs: “There’s only 3 ways out this shit;/ Dead, jail or get your legal hustle on,” he raps on “Get Yo Money.”
The authenticity lapses only with “Looking for Love.” It’s intended to be a love song, but it sounds markedly unconvincing given that any other mention of a woman on the album is because she’s remembered fondly for her sex or her willingness to volunteer her home as a stash spot. The Auto-Tune doesn’t make it better.
The album opens with a sure, strong voice: “Turbulence is the price you pay for flyin’ high.” It ends with “Bless us, as we fly higher/ Lift us, as we move higher.” CyHi is standing at the crossroads of the past and present, grateful for his present esteem, the relationship he has forged with God and his will to make it out alive.