By the end of a Nav project you’re left with this overwhelming urge to just take away his mic and give him one long, heartfelt hug; pity isn’t an unintended side-effected of his XO branded brooding, it’s the thesis statement. The goal of each and every Nav song is simple yet often misinterpreted: Nav isn’t trying to stunt on us, he’s trying to show us the frivolity of using materialism to mask pain. He’s an astute exhibitionist in that sense, deconstructing traditionally grand gestures to reveal to us that true happiness and true peace must be found within. But until Nav’s own perspective has matured enough to execute that message in a more poignant manner, all we’re left with is another Nav project that begs to be pitied instead of admired, enjoyed or even appreciated.
Where other rappers might invite a threat, daring others to treat them like a lick, Nav starts and ends the album confirming then reaffirming that a lot of people do indeed view him as a lick. That’s not him wearing his heart in his sleeve or boasting about how much jewelry he’s got on, that’s him still cornered on the middle school playground, feeling scorned by his peers. He habitually comes off like someone who’s been bullied, but for the most inconsequential and petty reasons. (On an unrelated note, Nav would like you to know that he’s now a size 32 waist - and we want to congratulate him because health is wealth!). Hearing Nav’s stoic claims of being “reckless” while living out his dreams, you get the sense that he just wants to be a Duke of something, somewhere. It could be Toronto, it could be Houston, it could be Atlanta. Hell, it could even Sussex. The title may be empty but the pomp and circumstance - the ostensible showing of respect - would be very real. And Nav just wants to be loved. If Nav were Meghan Markle, Metro Boominwould be his Prince Harry and last year’s Perfect Timing their Royal Wedding. Nav should’ve been over the moon. Instead, with RECKLESS, he's somehow only buried himself deeper in his megalomania.
I understand this a strained metaphor, but the surface level reading feels fitting when you hear Nav croon "I’m addicted to the money and fame,” in a pseudo falsetto. In his own words, he’s going down the wrong path, ignoring all the signs and grappling with inner demons. The gist of Nav’s artistry is this: there are only so many designer glasses and custom shoes you can cop before your thoughts inevitably wander back to your ex (the one who used to fuck with you even when you unwittingly wore boot-cut jeans or something as equally flagrant). You can try as much as you want to level yourself up, price yourself out of her league, but the heart wants what the heart wants. This longing tints a majority of Nav’s material and forces the songs to bounce back and forth between brooding lows and triumphant highs. Currently, his identity as a songwriter resides somewhere between disaffected rapper and love-scorned R&B singer. When “Take Me Simple” first played on OVO Sound radio in January of 2016, Nav was rapping coded slang about gunplay and casually dropping the n-word -- now he’s supposed to be the heir to The Weeknd’s gloomy kingdom. “It’s funny how everything panned out,” to quote Nav himself.
In the two years and change since “Take Me Simple” was first played on OVO Sound, Nav has dropped a handful mixtapes and just as many charting singles. However, with each release, the singles become less potent and the projects themselves more contrived. The impact of the lead single, Lil Uzi Vert-assisted “Wanted You”, was muted and the follow up, a XXL diss track titled “Freshman List” unfortunately has the most underdeveloped beat on the whole project. The Quavo and Travis Scott collabs, “Faith” and “Champion” respectively, would have done a better job at conveying the tone of the project with the latter artist being the closest to a kindred spirit Nav has in this current hip-hop climate.
Nav’s shortcomings have been clear since his inception and, unfortunately, his debut doesn’t do much to combat the obvious pitfalls of his artistry. Rather, Nav purposefully disregards roads less traveled - where he may stumble upon new ideas, new sounds and new vibes - in order to double down on this path he’s chosen. Nav never substantiates his struggle and therefore never earns the empathy of his audience. He’ll spit, “My bro is still homeless and he’s still cookin’ on the pot” and expect us to believe in the gravity of the situation without further context. He’s always approached his songwriting with a sense of self-assuredness that has, over time, actually proven to be his greatest detriment. You have to be a damn good writer to keep self-assuredness from becoming a wall between you and your audience and Nav seems to preoccupied to see the box he’s heading into.
RECKLESS is the kind of album that you just have to throw your hands up and accept once your friends start hyping it up - like they did with Huncho Jack or whatever Big Sean’s last project was - because it takes you too long to explain precisely why you prefer someone like Young Thug or Gunna or Playboi Carti and how they have an ability to channel unadulterated joy and in a wholly unique way that isn’t teachable nor learnable. If Carti’s albums work because of his cocky detachment from the blandness of everyday life, Nav’s refusal to emerge from whatever troubles have suffocated him in the past force him to continually drag the fruits of his labor down into the abyss with him. Without any sort of reconciliation with his demons, the album becomes a one-side therapy session and we, the listeners, don’t get compensated enough to want to hold his hand as he figures himself out.
In short, where the stylings of his contemporaries feel fully realized, Nav’s self-absorbed agonizing gets in his own way more often than not. The saving grace is that, with a notable line up of up & coming talent on the boards, this may be his best produced effort to date. Where Metro’s touch is a bit too sparse for Nav’s own helium raps, the stylings of Rex Kudo, Ben Billions, Wheezy and co. result in an elusively vibrant canvas that is equal parts ruminative and uptempo. The issue is, Nav chooses to set himself into one and only one gear, turning any instance of upbeat swing into another retread of the same melancholic, heartbroken vibes. The intended retro r&b vibe is lost and the songs feel devoid of any genuine funk. The limited vocal range tightly constricts the songwriting and any snug pockets that do get carved out ultimately become fodder to the vast amount of monotone filler surrounding it.
Ultimately, the album offers hollow music for busy people; it's something you can study to as easily as that lo-fi playlist you have bookmarked. The soundscape is engrossing yet unremarkable, the vocal flourishes subtle enough to not grate but not dynamic enough to do much more beyond that. The features seem carefully curated with all four guest spots occupied by similarly somber crooners, but their presence only accentuates Nav’s own ceiling. On his own, Nav is a one-dimensional writer with a bland palette; with company, he actually becomes a tasteful curator with engaging sensibilities. While he may be attempting to turn this moodiness into a theme - to play on megalomania as a means of exemplifying the shallowness of materialism - the moodiness plays more like an aesthetic choice. There’s no therapeutic release here, there are just ceaseless layers of banal meditation on a topic that used to be somewhat interesting: his own rap career.
Rappers rapping about rap has never been cool; tolerated, yes - even celebrated if the proper dose is delivered at the right time. Rappers rapping about their rap career is even lamer, especially for three straight projects. It’s about time someone woke Nav up from what, based on his own accounts, seems like a living nightmare, so that he can enjoy the fruits of his labor, soak up more of the world, and come back to us with the Take Care-level opus we know he’s got in him.