It’s often the idea of what lies beyond our universe which makes our existence inside it bearable. Through the lens of the spiritual we see extra significance in the ordinary, it assigns worth to our achievements, missteps and grief. Spirituality becomes the ground we walk upon.
Putting his spirituality at the forefront of his music, Navy Blue documents how mental illness distorts the ground paved by his faith. Both of his albums released in 2020 show the changing face of the relationship between Navy and the spiritual realm. On Àdá Irin, he basks in the joy of his connection to the spiritual world. It exalts him and gives power to his words on confidence and happiness. Song of Sage: Post Panic! details a powerless Navy who hopes that his spirituality can stop him from falling further into grief and depression.
Titling his debut album Àdá Irin, Navy Blue brings us into the realm of the Yoruba religion. Àdá Irin is the name of a cutlass wielded by the warrior God, Ògún — a deity who later returns again on “Dreams of a Distant Journey” from Song of Sage. As Navy raps, “Child of Ògún, his spirit walk amongst the trees,” he establishes himself as a warrior, just like Ògún, wielding Àdá Irin as his weapon of choice.
The war Navy is fighting on Àdá Irin sees him point his cutlass outwards, standing in a position of power and peace fostered by his immersion in spirituality. The cutlass is held in self-defence, to warn away negativity from any direction.
On “Crash,” he acknowledges that negativity will penetrate his bubble, rapping: “When it rain put my faith in Ifá / Taking it far, got the face of a god.” Ifá is another deity of the Yoruba religion, the deity of wisdom and intellectual development. Navy’s trust in the deities plants trust within himself to make intelligent decisions and to be powerful enough to combat the internal negativity accompanying a lack of self-esteem.
He hammers this point home on “Simultaneously Bleeding,” stating “My spirit can’t be touched / I started caring ‘less ’bout what they say from jump / Seen from sacred views, Navy Blue” As he strengthens his relationship with spirituality, he gains a higher opinion of himself, becoming his own source of power, overriding self-sabotaging self-doubt. When one believes that there is no problem too big for them to overcome, their mind is at peace, their mental wellbeing in a good place.
Navy’s relationship with spirituality is only deepened as Àdá Irin progresses. Navy’s life comes into focus as he furthers his acknowledgement of the spiritual, bringing clarity to some of the biggest questions we have the capability to ask. “Ode2mylove” is a testament to the bliss and peace of Àdá Irin. Over a slow saxophone loop we hear Navy philosophising and crooning in his most tranquil and whimsical mental spot across the two albums.
I can feel my angels working / Yeah I know that I’m worth it / I serve a greater purpose / I’m grateful for the hurting / My fears floating on the surface / For this love I’m determined” – Navy Blue, “Ode2mylove” (2020)
We often don’t think about these bigger questions about our existence: worth of it — the purpose of it. Because they are the most abstract of questions, their lack of definiteness brings us anxiety. Navy Blue’s clarity on purposeful existence and his self-worth is to be admired. Through Àdá Irin, the cutlass and the album, Navy has a physical tether to peace, to his spirituality, and to a time where his mental was at peace. Through pointing the cutlass outwards, Navy channels wisdom, bravery and love. However, as he progresses into Song of Sage: Post Panic!, grief weakens Navy’s arm, leaving him vulnerable to demons.
Despite his acceptance and welcoming of pain, his understanding of the inevitability of negativity and the spiritual wall of armour surrounding his brain, loss breaks Navy down. Song of Sage: Post Panic! is a haunting album on its own, but when compared to Àdá Irin, the full scope of its dark significance is overwhelming. The concrete laid down for Navy to walk on becomes ephemeral, crumbling along with his connection to the spiritual and his self-esteem.
On Song of Sage’s opening track, “Dreams of a Distant Journey,” Navy begins to question his worth with the line “I often rеminisce, what spirit guides a calm regrеt?” Placing these lines at the start of the album lets us know that this is a different Navy Blue, one who has built a collection of his past mistakes and wonders why a spirit would help him. The questioning of his faith seems to coincide with the death of his father. On the same song he raps, “I been on my own / If Papa was around, it ain’t no question who would own a home,” signifying the support system his father provided and the way his presence would elevate Navy. Monumental loss discolours the rose-tinted lens provided by spirituality.
Navy’s relationship with faith has changed. He no longer feels protected but vulnerable, clinging onto faith as he fears losing himself in an abyss of depression, something he refers to on “Certainty” with the gut-wrenching line: “My depression, I’m the only one who made me sick.” Navy Blue is carrying not only the weight of loss, but the weight of blame, and therefore misconstrues his inability to drag himself out of the abyss as weakness. As the featured artist on “Certainty,” Maxo, delivers the bar, “Only faith in my hands like my last bit of change,” we realise that belief in the spiritual no longer equates to belief in the self. The abstract nature of faith means it is open to growth and mutation all the same.
The strength needed to hold up the cutlass to the world has dwindled with Navy’s self-belief, culminating in Song of Sage’s most heart-breaking track, “Self Harm.” Taking on the weight of regret and loss has made Navy turn the cutlass back on himself, a symbol of faith twisted into a mark of his pain. Closing the track, Navy utters: “My own home got ghosts that I brought in here, get ‘em out,” confirming his belief that the source of negativity in his life is himself, so where else would he point Àdá Irin?
Climbing Back Up
After “Self Harm,” Song of Sage slowly changes tone as Navy begins to find hope. Navy makes the realisation that his father is now a part of the spiritual realm he puts so much faith in. The support system which he felt like he would collapse without still exists through his belief. The lines on “Pressure Points,” “Shoulder cries and when my poppa died, his spirit live with me / Everywhere I go, you are apart of all that interest me / Palms are open, pray to God she love me and he cherish me,” and on “244,” “Promise I don’t live in fear no more / I got papa’s dearest glow, feel his spirit close,” sound more reminiscent of Àdá Irin than the opening half of Song of Sage. Navy’s father is still close, the stable foundation which he leapt off of to achieve internal peace never left. The loneliness that grew from losing his father dissipates upon this realisation, inspiring the hope that he can regain serenity.
Navy is starting to climb back up without the thick smog of loss colouring his vision. Once again he starts to see the worth in himself which quiets down his previously deafening guilt. Though recovery from loss is a long process, Navy’s album Àdá Irin provides a picture of himself at his best, something concrete that he can build from. Reminiscing used to fill Navy with regret but now he can look back and see a roadmap from grief to joy. Navy’s belief in the spiritual eventually translated to belief in himself, and lifted him from the trauma of the trenches. He can move forward using himself as an example of how to combat his pain, because what better way is there to dispel demons than with Sage.
Yes I praise Ifá with equal praise to Buddha / All my faith in God, I’m glad I found the rooms / When I break out my cocoon / This the better me, the user of the tools / That I acquired, my body, my soul / My arrival, divine timing” – Navy Blue, “Alignment” (2020)