Mega lengthy mixtapes are notorious for doing poorly with fans. The issue lies in the content and the listeners’ attention span. Can you make it through 22 tracks of the same artist and find something different about each song you like? That’s almost impossible…unless it’s “Lessons and Blessings” by Shawn Nova, better known as N0va of course! Most hip-hop heads can easily rattle off a few dozen albums that qualify as bona fide masterpieces, seminal song suites that embody the best of the genre’s rich recorded canon to date. But ask them to name double-albums massive mega mixtapes that fit the same bill, and that number invariably dwindles to no more than a few, most often comprised of 2Pac’s expansive All Eyez on Me, the Notorious B.I.G.’s posthumous Life After Death, and the Wu-Tang Clan’s triumphant Wu-Tang Forever.
You can also throw in OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, which sold more than 11 million units. The truth is, aside from these rare shining specimens of epic dynamism, most massive multi-track efforts—hip-hop or otherwise—typically fall victim to diminishing returns. This is largely due to the inevitable presence of superfluous filler fare, which constitutes little more than mediocre tracks best left to an artist’s diehard fans.
Enter N0va’s new 22 track mixtape, “Lessons and Blessings”, the Canadian emcee’s most ambitious recording yet, which proves the exception to the rule outlined above. Beyond proving to be one of the most fully realized and masterfully orchestrated mega-mixtapes underground hip-hop has witnessed in the last few years , “Lessons and Blessings” is also unequivocally one of 2017’s finest long players, regardless of genre classifications.
Reflecting on the past and prepping for the future, the tracks on this mixtape swell into N0va’s signature frantic-but-laidback style as he pounds through the verses on top of clamorous beats and catchy choruses that build up to unify the underlying messages.
Thus the duality of the mixtape is established early on, with N0va willing to bounce back and forth between his reflective and earnest personas quite intentionally, on tracks like “Selfish Eyes” – Produced by B. Young x Abel Petit and “Swervin’” – Produced by CashMoneyAp x CedDidIt.
“Lessons and Blessings” masterfully balances N0va’s demured and frantic styles quite realistically. From track to track, he exposes his shifting perspectives which keeps the mixtape moving at a good clip. Aiding the dichotomous quality of these tracks are N0va’s bellowing vocals, deep and resonant and meshing against the luscious bass-driven instrumentals.
Major cases in point are “Along the Way” – Produced by Noise system, “Tongue Tied” – Produced by Noise system, “I Don’t Need That” – Produced by Homage, and “Boomerang” – Produced by Homage, among others.
N0va has no interest in bending his music or the public’s perception of his art for the sake of a mere hit single; if a song of his becomes popular he’d rather it be because the public deemed it so than because he forced himself into something that would fit on the radio.
As such, eclectic, alternative and progressive standouts like “Heart of Stone2 – Produced by B. Young, “Oh Lord” – Produced by The Beat Plug and “Spider’s Web” – Produced by Abel Petit, turn out to be as catchy as hell on their own terms.
“Lessons and Blessings” does something important for N0va going forward. It exposes the rapper as a guy who’s unquestionably made his influences his own and is now ready to poke and prod the finished product, to play with it in a self-confident fashion that allows for pronounced and interesting artistic growth. N0va’s experimentation with new flows and lusher, diverse instrumentation makes for a release that just cannot be missed.