Let’s start this blog off with a bit of irony.
Jalen Santoy begins his song, CP3, with an excerpt from First Take, an unbearable ESPN morning talk show. In the excerpt, the show’s sports critics, Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless, are discussing whether NBA star Chris Paul deserves a max salary contract. 30 seconds in, Jalen cuts them off with the line, “I don’t give a damn what another man think.”
Well Jalen, I’m about to tell you what I think.
But first, I want to congratulate the 23 year-old rapper on lasting 30 seconds before interrupting Skip Bayless. Here’s one of my favorite segments from First Take. If you make it through the entire 6-minutes without laugh-crying while wondering how anyone could get so emotional about a sports contract, your composure is impressive.
Do you find the critics insufferable? I do, and evidently so does Jalen Santoy. Yet, instead of ignoring them, he finds a way to incorporate them into his music. Skip and Stephen A. are the pinnacle of sports critics. They argue, jeer, praise, and yell as much as anyone on TV outside CNN, but their effect is negligible. Chris Paul’s contract is between himself and the LA Clippers. Moreoever, I believe Chris Paul’s contract is not the first thing on his mind. As the phrase goes, “ball is life.” In the same vein, to many artists, music is life. With music comes one’s soul, one’s past, and one’s passion. No critic will be able to fully encapsulate that.
Jalen Santoy’s passion is on full display on CP3, and throughout his latest mixtape, Charlie Eastern. The mixtape’s name is a tribute to his cousin’s rap group found in Charleston, South Carolina. During the making of the mixtape, Jalen’s cousin was murdered by police. He describes Charlie Eastern as a project that “represents birth, foundation, and the willingness to show transparency in difficult situations.” Throughout the album, Jalen shows transparency about his hometown, his confidence, and his reasons for making music.
CP3’s lyrics are transitionary and conflicted, often referencing Jalen’s foundations and his goals in the same breath. His homestate of North Carolina is prominent, from the First Take excerpt (Chris Paul is originally from Winston-Salem) to his denial that he sounds like J Cole (more on that later). The line “Push a Jag, no tags, down Providence Road. I’m just trying to make enough money for my momma and bills, so if I really want it I will” contrasts the references to superstars Chris Paul and J Cole to exemplify the transitionary state Jalen is in. He’s still driving down Providence Road in the unincorporated community of Climax, North Carolina, and he still can’t afford to legally own a Jaguar, yet he compares his critics to those of more famous, and richer North Carolinians like Chris Paul. He claims he’s only trying to make enough money to survive, yet in the next line, he’s “young and chasing a mil.” The conflict involved in making music for passion, necessity, and fame is a constant theme. Add critic noise to that conflict, and any young musician could get overwhelmed.
Nowhere is Jalen’s conflict more evident than in the line “I don’t even sound like Cole,” and then proceding to sound very much like J Cole. In 2009, J Cole dropped The Warm Up, which included the song, Heartache. Complete with references to NBA players and North Carolina, J Cole analyzed the conflict and transition involved with gaining fame. Granted, 2009 J Cole was a much bigger name in hip hop than 2016 Jalen Santoy. Still, the comparisons between the two songs are simple to make.
You don’t even have to be a rap fan to see the similarities. Listen to 2:30-2:40 of CP3, and then listen to 0:30-0:40 of No Role Modelz.
Though the similarities are obvious, Jalen Santoy still feels the need to separate himself from one of the best rappers of the last few years, and that’s understandable. Once in a box, performers often find it difficult to break free (see: Any Disney star transition). Being compared to J Cole by no means an insult, but there is danger in allowing critics and audiences to build those types of boxes.
In the end, Jalen Santoy is going to decide who Jalen Santoy is. He understands the play between critics and artists, and has decided to opt out of it. CP3 ends with a continuation of Stephen A. and Skip’s discussion, except this time, he lets Vera Lynn’s WWII-era classic, “We’ll Meet Again” drown them out. He makes it quite clear that he’ll continue to ignore critics “until the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away.”
CP3 is a clever, passionate song, and Jalen Santoy doen’t care if I think so. For that, Jalen Santoy is my Sunday’s Best.
The Weeknd & Kygo (Starboy, Kygo Remix – a.k.a. Often, Kygo Remix pt. 2) – For never changing
Earl St. Clair (Good Time) – For mentioning the name of my blog in his song
Usher (Wait for it) – For making me feel Aaron Burr’s love for Theodosia even more than I did in the original soundtrack