The RX is Uproxx Music’s stamp of approval for the best albums, songs, and music stories throughout the year. Inclusion in this category is the highest distinction we can bestow and signals the most important music being released throughout the year. The RX is the music you need, right now.
Last night, the series finale of Snowfall aired, bringing the winding six-year epic to an ironic conclusion. The finale also brought the story of LA drug kingpin Franklin Saint full circle, ending the narrative much as it began – albeit with its protagonist in a much different state, ten years later. (It’s also a full circle moment for yours truly; I quit my old job to work at Uproxx full-time in order to shoot some sponsored content for Snowfall back when it debuted in 2017.)
That story fascinated Brooklyn rapper Skyzoo so much, he wrote a whole album about it. The Mind Of A Saint came out back in January, but much like the show itself, I didn’t get around to engaging with it until much later. With the overload of content coming out on a seemingly daily basis, the project got lost in the rush.
Fortunately, thanks to the series finale airing this week, I had the perfect opportunity to revisit the project – and I’m so glad I did. On The Mind Of A Saint, Sky plants himself into Franklin’s Converse All-Stars to deliver what he believes is the album that Franklin himself would make if he pulled an Eazy-E and switched from the drug business to the music one.
And unsurprisingly, it works extremely well. Sure, Skyzoo’s got that whole brusque New Yorker demeanor – not to mention an accent that marks him as a native of the Big Apple far more than a hard-R-slinging South LA resident – but aside from the modern quirks of his densely-packed delivery and modern rap mannerisms (as opposed to the more straightforward flows adopted by Angelenos in the ‘80s), his unique storytelling style captures the essence of the series perfectly.
Across the 10 tracks, Skyzoo channels his love of sports and pop culture references into the show’s 1980s setting, only using metaphors he knows the protagonist would use. This includes nods to geopolitical happenings like the Iran-Contra scandal on “Eminent Domain” and local sports heroes like the Lakers’ Norm Nixon on “Straight Drop.”
Meanwhile, tracks like “Bodies!” and “Apologies In Order” recount events from the show itself, like a rap recap. Sky litters the former with the names of the characters in the series who meet their demises from Franklin’s machinations, all while detailing the kingpin’s mindstate: “Manboy deserved it, Khadijah deserved it / Tyana shouldn’t have been in that car, that wasn’t worth it / Andre deserved it / I mean, in the beginning, he didn’t but then he went and got all this pretend purpose.”
Even more impressively, though, Skyzoo indirectly uses this conceptual approach to the album to turn the lens onto the ills of society that continue to create the conditions for this criminal mindset to this day. “Picture opportunity skipping over who you be,” he mourns on “Eminent Domain.”
Then, “Views From The Valley” presents the stark contrast between LA’s various enclaves and how seeing wealth just out of reach can make someone desperate to change their fortunes: “Never blink, and turn all this shit into more than I could ever think /Not a stereotype to let me sink, let me link / Between where I’m from to where I’m placed at /And pray over this blizzard I’ma whip up on my way back.”
When he pulls back for a bird’s-eye view on “Panthers & Powder,” it doesn’t feel like a betrayal of the concept. Instead, it reads like something Franklin knows implicitly, even if he wouldn’t know how to articulate it out loud – at least, until he decided to dedicate himself to a craft like rap, in which case those connections might become clearer.
The most impressive moment on the album, though, comes near its own conclusion (which, unfortunately, was written before the final season of the show even aired, leaving Sky’s interpretation of those events unwritten). On “Purity,” Sky imagines Franklin’s fateful meeting with a young Nipsey Hussle and his older brother Blacc Sam as toddlers. By this point in the show, it’s 1986, so it would be entirely possible for a real-life Franklin to have met the boys’ father.
It’s a clever way to double down on the album’s (and the show’s) themes; that for every action, there’s a reaction, that the consequences of a scheme often far outweigh the merits, that legacies are built and destroyed by the mundane encounters we have every day, and that a system that fails its most vulnerable will stay failing everyone within it.
Nip, like Sky’s imaginary Franklin, found his way out of the hustler’s lifestyle through rap; like the show’s Franklin, though, he couldn’t really escape the realities of the twisted social structure of America, which has determined that some lives have more value than others – even when they traffic in the same immoral industry (just watch the show, you’ll get it).
Like the show that inspired it, The Mind Of A Saint is a fascinating glimpse at the realities of the drug trade and its impacts on the community around it, without the glamorizing that comes from other, similar examples of trap and gangster rap. Because Sky posits from the outset that this is a fictional character’s narrative, he can get intimately close but remain artistically distant.
It’s an example of hip-hop at its highest form, a literary work worth digging into to exegete heady themes and an entertaining display of smart, surprising wordplay. It’s what KRS-One set out to make with Criminal Minded and an extension of Jay-Z accomplished with American Gangster. It’s a concept album that actually sticks the landing – something that is so rarely accomplished in any genre. And, with the final season finally out in the world, there’s still some story left to tell – a perfect excuse for Skyzoo to drop a deluxe.
The Mind Of A Saint is out now. Get it here.