Let's pretend North Carolina didn't already give the world one of the most critically acclaimed hip-hop duos of the last decade. Then pretend that Chapel Hill emcees SkyBlew and Azon Blaze—together, the newly formed duo Blaze the Sky—have the task of creating North Carolina's first classic hip-hop LP. At least they have the simpatico chemistry that Little Brother's Phonte and Big Pooh shared on 2003's The Listening. On "Like a Dream," for instance, the two emcees use their compatibility to invoke a People Under The Stairs-like party shtick. Or there's "First Comeback," the obligatory relationship song, which showcases Azon's generosity with writing and performing hooks, despite his apparent reluctance to spend money on his love life.
But on tracks like "Work To Do" and "NC Get the Money 2011," the two get overzealous in the name of both Chapel Hill and cliché pulpit rap, employing topics like Good Samaritans, destiny and reality. Too often, one of the two emcees leaves gaps for his partner where better rapping could have done the job. Blaze the Sky had the sense to find a veteran mixtape host, though, recruiting Big Daddy Kane's DJ, Scaz Digga. It helps temper the embarrassment of naive numbers like "Go Crazy Chapel Hill."
The two are best when they need each other, a good sign: "Right Bros." captures Azon at his most focused and effective as a lyricist, even though his voice refuses to do anything other than offer an inaudible grunt-speak. But SkyBlew's high voice, the perfect foil, hangs out somewhere between that of Hurricane Chris and Lupe Fiasco. On "Like a Dream," he and Azon go back and forth, working together as fast-witted B-boy aspirants at the opening number of their musical. In the end, when the curtain closes on this mixtape, we hope we'll see another, better version of this performance before long.