Sage The Gemini’s debut was a perfectly timed release. The release of Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City seemed to shine a whole new light on the west coast. While the west coast of hip hop never necessarily fell off in a musical sense, the eye had moved away from it for quite awhile. Kendrick and the rest of TDE pumped new blood into the scene, with many listeners checking for more from the area. As Kendrick’s music post-Good Kid, M.A.A.D City moved more and more mainstream over the next few years, having tracks with the likes of Taylor Swift & Tame Impala for the Divergent soundtrack, this allowed for producers like DJ Mustard to completely take over the scene and sound of hip hop.
Mustard’s sound was irresistible for many. The sound was adopted by everyone from YG to Iggy Azalea. The format was joked for quite awhile, the simplistic drums and “AY clap” format was scene as a lack of skills. Despite that, Mustard put out an absurd amount of hits during this time. On top of that, he released a near perfect album with YG.
With a chart topping album under the belt for the west, the west’s domination was undeniable. While all this went on, the group H.B.K. was slowly making waves in the Bay Area. Many quality releases were being released under them, specifically from their member IAMSU, but it was their member Sage The Gemini that brought a massive hit. His track “Gas Pedal” became huge, even warranting a remix with Justin Bieber. Having their own spin of hyphy music, they provided a sound that was more layered than Mustard’s, yet just as fun.
Sage’s debut is one that could have flown under the radar for many, as it was released just weeks after YG’s My Krazy Life. YG struck a perfect balance of conceptual lyrical ability and fun party music, meanwhile Sage found a formula for some insanely entertaining college music. The entire album sounds like the soundtrack to a strip club or a weekend bender. “Gas Pedal” & “Red Nose” in particular became perfect for the club, directly implicating the listeners to twerk.
The sound of the album is nearly fully in-house. The majority of the album is produced by H.B.K. members and has features from the members. Any feature or production credit that isn’t, with the exception of Justin Bieber on the deluxe and August Alsina, are all from the West Coast. The sound of the album is perfectly west coast, while still having creativity. Mustard’s sound was copied until it became soulless, where anyone was able to replicate it. Songs like “Bad Girls” & “Go Somewhere” have these woozy synths that become mesmerizing, and Sage’s sensibilities for melodies is impeccable.
While the album is majority party hits with a focus on women, its not all nonsense. “Put Me On” is a track him looking back at where he comes from, but also not giving out freebies to people that expect something from him. “Nothing on Me” reinforces his pride of his city, with the hook instructing to rep where you come from. “Second Hand Smoke” deals with trying to make it out of the hood via the means of being a criminal, and the consequences that come with it. Despite the focus on partying and women, Sage knows how to keep it grounded and serious when he needs to.
This album might be a fond distant memory for many that enjoyed it as a party listen, but there’s a lot of elements to appreciate about it that were absent from the most mainstream artists at the time. H.B.K. winded up having some decent material to come from it, but nothing that sounds as fresh as what IAMSU & Sage were able to pull together with their albums. Sage in particular never was able to top the album either, with his only other release being a mixtape in 2017. After having music as big as his to get a song with Justin Bieber though, its understandable why he would take a step back.
Many might have written Sage off as the artist with one big song, but realistically any song from this album could’ve been a true hit. Even on the more serious tracks, the production is still fun and the hooks are catchy. What Sage was able to do with this album is not an easy feat, many that fall into the “one-hit wonder” category put together these mind-numbing pointless albums. Nothing feels like too much of a reach on this to outdo his biggest songs, it feels instead like he just had a good time making each and every song. That comes across in each performance of his and its incredibly infectious. If this was an album that you may have skipped, it should absolutely be reevaluated.