Album Review: FlyLife — ‘A Different View’

“Cause who the fuck gon’ save your family if it isn’t you?” raps FlyLife on the title track from his recently released album. “I know it’s usually guns and drugs but this a different view.” The song serves as the culmination of a broader idea, each prior track helping to redefine a concept of what it means to be successful. Throughout the release, the Des Moines-based MC does this by addressing cultural archetypes and challenging the proliferation of stereotypes in his own life — a contrast which speaks to the promise behind the album’s title.

Despite being deeply personal, A Different View incorporates features and production from a dozen collaborators, including Teller Bank$, Juliano Dock and other members of FlyLife’s Us Vs Them collective. There’s no shortage of lyrical boasting and one-upmanship, but it more closely reflects a rising tide outlook than a crabs-in-a-bucket mentality. This theme echoes through Dominic Harrington’s verse in the methodical stomper, “Enormous,” where he adds, “They don’t want me to win, they hopin’ I catch a big L / They see my potential and wanna do me like Big L.” It makes you wonder what could have been for the New York MC if he hadn’t been gunned down at the age of 24.

Several tracks depict gun violence and drug running as vehicles some use to try to escape their situation. But leveraging those themes to communicate a story reveals a vulnerability in the style: potentially reinforcing negative stereotypes by poetically incorporating them. This problematic trade-off is understood, as FlyLife raps on “Seven Days”: “They wanna put us all in a box and see us on Fox.” This isn’t to overlook the album’s musical cohesion — it incorporates everything from trap to R&B and shines through on several tracks produced by Cartier Cookin’, including “Oceans Thirteen.” But its self-aware concepts resonate as much as its sounds do.

Much of the album goes on to challenge other concepts relating to achievement, with FlyLife attempting to reconcile desires for financial and material gain, companionship and personal satisfaction with society’s conflicting messaging. In “Enormous,” for example, he and Harrington trade bars, referencing Jay-Z and Michael Jordan as childhood heroes while FlyLife later criticizes certain ideological blueprints laid out by past generations. In “A Different View” he raps, “I ain’t respect your ways but I know you ain’t to blame / You OGs dropped the ball, truthfully them n____s lame.”

While not a direct reference to the aforementioned icons, this line provides an interesting point of contrast to their position as sources of inspiration. In a way, it recognizes society’s use of “successful” outliers to weaponize idealistic versions of Black masculinity in undermining and dismissing certain realities facing those stuck within generational cycles of struggle. How does someone pull themselves up by their own bootstraps like Jay or MJ when they don’t even have boots? The close of the album brings with it no specific view of what success is, but instead, FlyLife encourages the idea that success is what you make it, depending on your own context. Each listener needs to determine what that means for themself. Therein resides the different view at the heart of this release.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 308.