TDP Review: Yonas ‘The Transition’ (Deluxe Edition)

yonasYonas, a Bronx-based hip hop artist who strives to “bring content back to popular music,” released his album The Transition (Deluxe Edition) in November of 2013. Prior to this release, Yonas had achieved much of his success through the internet. He recently gained some recognition with his remix of Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks,” which went viral on YouTube. Additionally, his song “Fall Back” was included in Ryan Gosling’s 2013 movie A Place Beyond the Pines. The release of The Transition, however, is evidence of his maturity as an artist and indicative of a budding successful career.

The album opens with the song “Set it Off,” which includes lyrical content that reflects the standards of the genre, full of boastful masculine performance; however, there’s more to the song than the swagger typical of the hip hop and rap artists we embrace. Yonas masterfully combines the familiar focus on violent action as a part of urban staging, a vehicle for validation, with perceptive social commentary regarding the nature of that violence. As he confidently states, his “insight is in flight” on this track. Lyrics aside, the song also serves as an example of his diversity – incorporating heavy electronic sounds and pop sensibilities. It’s a strong start to a solid album.

Another interesting aspect of the album is Yonas’ atypical treatment of other subjects common to the genre. In his discussion of women, for example, he is seemingly trying to be more socially conscious than the majority of his contemporaries in that there is less of a focus on sexual objectification and vilification of women in The Transition than the typical hip hop or rap album offers its listeners. Yonas certainly walks a fine line in some of his songs regarding this subject, most evident in the track “Girls of Summer” in which he proclaims that he is “swimmin’ in women,” and vacillates between feeling “trapped” and feeling elated. The song presents a narrative of a night on the dance floor – a common setting in pop and hip hop songs with lyrics that often include sexual directives to women and other demeaning content. In Yonas’ song, the directives are more like dance floor cat-calls than sexual commands (“Hey girl, show me what you got, hey! Hey girl, show me what you’re working with, hey! Hey girl, let me see you drop, hey!”).  The lines are definitely not innocuous. Cat-calling, yelling unsolicited sexual advances, reinforces an uneven power dynamic and sets up a potentially dangerous atmosphere. He’s certainly not subverting the stereotypes or entirely altering the take on familiar subject matter offered in the typical hip hop song, but he is also not ENTIRELY relying on degradation to elevate himself. His directives are certainly less sexually explicit than what we hear in many pop and hip hop songs, which is a small improvement. This move towards a SLIGHTLY more socially responsible representation of women is not evident in some of his videos, however. Sadly, there he seems to depend on the standard images we have come to expect, those that perpetuate the misrepresentation of women in the media. He seems to be caught between recycling the standard sexist ideas common to his genre and working to alter those standards. On one of his slower, more confessional songs on the album, “Leaving You” (featuring Jasmine Poole), he discusses the problems he finds in superficial relationships and expresses a desire for something more. Referring to a specific woman as “bad luggage” a few lines before proclaiming that he would “never call a woman no b—-“ is a perfect example of the contradiction present in his lyrics. He makes efforts to address standard subjects in a better, more responsible and respectful manner, but he doesn’t quite do so wholeheartedly.

Perhaps the most standout song on the album is another electronic-infused track, “What More Can I Say,” which conveys the artist’s self-confidence and certainty of path. The song is full of self-aggrandizement, but somehow it rings more socially conscious than selfish. Sure, he spends much of the song telling listeners how great his “flow” is, ascribing to it an almost spiritual power when he describes it as “chosen,” and upping his street cred in the analogy “My flow’s so sick it’s forever under the weather,” but he also talks about his confidence in his own superiority as necessary for him to move forward by highlighting the need for progression. He states with conviction, “I know what I’m supposed to be” and asks why the world outside him is trying to prescribe his identity and behavior. His explanation for having a driving purpose is that he’s “gotta represent for [his] hometown.” His concern for the state of the world and his desire to see a difference is clear. While he views others as acting “frozen” in violence and predetermined social occupancy, he clearly wants more. When he says “Look into my eyes and see I’m searching for better,” he is believable.

The Transition (Deluxe Edition) is a well-crafted album that exemplifies Yonas’ talent. The album’s greatest triumph is its authenticity. Yonas’ songs are thoughtful; they extend beyond clever and catchy. His work is introspective, and he uses it to  express his thoughts on the world around him and his conflicts within it. Although there is nothing groundbreaking about this collection of songs, it is a good collection and one that achieves his hope of “bringing content back to popular music” in that he addresses some topics of actual gravity. As his popularity increases, perhaps so will authentic content in pop music. One can only hope.

 The Transition (Deluxe Edition) is available now for purchase and download, but it is FULL of mature content, as well as explicit and racially charged lyrics. You’ve been warned, Devils. Listen, as they say, at your own risk.

Here is the only song on the album without explicit lyrics: “Lost Me,” an emotional track about love lost and found.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5

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