In my 2020 love of Sleep Sinatra I started calling his cadence Dragić flow. Goran Dragić has played in the NBA for fourteen years as a guard and every time he takes the ball down the court I trust him. As a fan of the other team he terrifies me because his consistency is on another level. I started buying project after project of Sleeps work after his release earlier this year (Sleeper Effect) and they were all great. Whenever he picks up the microphone he delivers.
That consistency was what I expected when he teamed up with production mastermind August Fanon (Vic Spencer, Iceberg Theory, Armand Hammer, etc) on their collaboration album Routes but I got surprised. Some songs are squarely in the Dragić flow range of thumbs up work but several of these songs point to a more transcendent future for Sleep. A higher more undeniable summit of potentially culture shifting talent.
August Fanon is the instigator here without question. He gives us the seductive horns on Blood In My Eye which fits as a beautiful AZ Doe or Die era boom bap background for Sleep to swim through. The first minute of Routes our narrator lays out the commandments of being him as he talks about Covid and Nazis in the streets he stays centered “remain taut and teachable, ain’t scared what evil do. My body a vehicle, the soul in the driver’s seat. I’ll acknowledge any mind that’s as live as me.” It’s the most important verse on the album thematically. While he will smash a Nazi with no hesitation he remains ready to learn from this world whatever form that takes.
Fanon has to know this is his comfort zone so we find new tempos. Deceivers turns the soulful spooky (shout out to my favorite What We Do in The Shadows bar of 2020 “You energy vampires bout to take a stake to the chest) and Sleep flips one of your favorite Mobb Deep hooks in a new way. Undefeated was my alarm this morning and my wife scolded me for it. It sounds like Rocky Balboa entrance music. I was very surprised when I first heard this. M.O.P. would rap on this! The coolest part is Sleep brings his second best hook of the project and pushes each verse into that adrenal space “What you know about desperation? Between taking risks and minimum wage if the rap never makes it. What you know about doubting your elevation? Pressure sickness from the deep dives of creation. Who’s next to witness the rise and want to coat tail it? Your soul spread there’s no hope in your faking. What I know is the struggle just to make it. To break open a threshold and enter the new phases.” The tone in his voice is convincing. He knows this song IS a new phase. I love this song but it’s not even my favorite.
Life The Veil is Armand Hammer level sinister sounding. Sleep has that tone in his writing akin to Ka where you’re pretty sure he’s a good guy now partially because he’s put some real skeletons behind him. It makes his restraint potent and a subdued sneer is very present on the second half of this album which includes welcome associates Stik Figa and Teller Bank$.
The Reaper’s StopWatch still mystifies me. I get seduced by the elegant Fanon piano played in a strange Monk heavy key way. The first minute he breaks down how hard it is to be on this path of elevation while watching the world rot around him. People wasting the time they have to improve. The hook is not just the most stunning of the album but the quintessential Sleep chorus. While the first song has the most important thematic verse every word after the first chorus hits on The Reaper’s StopWatch is blackout. The first lines coming out of the hook “Speak now or forever hold your peeps close, As a child I ain’t have time for no heroes Moms was on Chemo.” Fanon’s talent is in finding the right sounds to push the best pens. Routes is a new place they charted out together. It proves that none of us have seen the best of Sleep Sinatra yet.
Please listen and buy Routes below: