McKinley Dixon wears his emotions about the late Toni Morrison on his sleeve, publicly expressing how her influence has profoundly impacted culture, yet the full extent of her legacy remains beyond our grasp. The Chicago-based rapper boldly proclaims that, in his eyes, Morrison is the greatest rapper alive, attributing her depth to be on par with rap legends like Rakim or KRS-One. Known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning and Nobel laureate status, Morrison’s literary works, including “Beloved,” “Jazz,” and “Paradise,” brim with raw emotion and social commentary, shedding light on America’s history and tackling themes of identity, community, and freedom while unearthing the harsh truths about racism.
Drawing inspiration from Morrison’s place in the African American oral tradition, Dixon weaves her novels into his observations of the Black experience, capturing its evolution and struggles on his fourth studio album, “Beloved! Paradise! Jazz?!,” aptly named after Morrison’s trilogy. Dixon is an artist who crafts rich and complex songs, evolving his sound while staying true to his artistic integrity. “Beloved! Paradise! Jazz?!” stands as a prestigious work meant to be savored in its entirety—a jazz-infused blend of conscious rap and soul that invites listeners to dissect and analyze its profound messages without the confusion of abstract references.
The album opens with an excerpt from Morrison’s “Jazz,” read by poet and cultural critic Hanif Abdurraqib, set against an eerie synth backdrop. Abdurraqib’s recitation sets the tone, painting a vivid yet hopeful picture of a city that both threatens and holds promise. Dixon uses his life experiences to offer insights to others who have faced similar challenges, crafting clear messages in tracks like “Run, Run, Run,” which addresses the harsh reality of gun violence while urging an end to needless killings.
Dixon masterfully employs perspective and storytelling to captivate listeners on tracks like “Live! From the Kitchen Table,” taking us through different kitchen table scenarios that evoke nostalgia and emotional resonance. He pays tribute to a close friend lost in “Tyler, Forever,” skillfully conveying pain through his words while maintaining an uplifting demeanor. His unique ability to intertwine pain and upbeat energy sets him apart, producing tracks that resonate deeply with listeners.
In an era where catchy melodies and simple rhymes dominate mainstream hip-hop, Dixon stands out as a lyricist with substance and a keen ear for production. Despite his efforts to mirror Morrison’s brilliance, there are moments where Dixon’s ideas become fragmented, making it challenging to grasp the meaning of his verses. The album occasionally drifts into ambiguity, leaving listeners to navigate through puzzling lyrics.
However, Dixon’s talents shine on tracks like “The Story so Far” and the album’s title track, “Beloved! Paradise! Jazz?!,” where he finds a perfect balance of heady lyricism and precise execution. These tracks demonstrate Dixon at his best, conveying powerful messages with clarity and depth.
Ultimately, “Beloved! Paradise! Jazz?!” showcases McKinley Dixon as an artist who isn’t afraid to explore complex themes and experiment with his sound. While some tracks may leave listeners yearning for more clarity, Dixon’s clear-eyed verses and profound insights provide a compelling listening experience that leaves a lasting impact.