Tarik Robinson 

Makebelieve Records • 2021

Tarik Robinson spent the better part of his career performing under the stage name Teekay. If there were ever a record on which to reclaim his name, then Rotations is the one.

Of all the ways musicians differentiate themselves from the masses, none is more personal and precarious than deciding on a name. Calgary emcee, producer, and radio host Tarik Robinson spent the better part of his career known as Teekay, one-half of the duo Dragon Fli Empire. The name served him well, but as he explains on the Bandcamp page for the album Rotations, the hip-hop field has “an excess of artists sharing his ‘rap name,’” so Robinson opted to drop the moniker for his latest full-length. If there were ever a record on which to reclaim his name, then Rotations is the one.

Here’s the thing about Robinson and Rotations: I had no idea who he was or where he came from before listening to the record. The self-proclaimed boom-bap-ologist spins an impressive collection of tracks that weave his personal narrative and artistic growth into the universal search for joy and the struggle for acceptance and agency into hip-hop’s musical evolution. From the very beginning, when he starts with the sound of a radio tuning into and out of frequencies on “Intro: ‘Begin’” and segues into the title track, I understood who Tarik Robinson is. Robinson’s verses find him standing in his power by expropriating a sample from Nas’ “Life’s a Bitch” and laying down old-school rhythms and soulful samples. “Take a pen, write your play, and then you take the stage,” he says, his flow impeccable and smooth, before adding, “It might not be a perfect script / Things you’ve written down they might reverse and start to flip.” His tenacity and flexibility positively radiate out of the speakers.

Robinson’s vibe is relaxed and loose but highly stylized and sophisticated. There is a nostalgic quality to the effervescent “Still In It.” The same is true of earworm “Take You Back” (favourite rhyme on the record: “Underestimated / Coulda stayed jaded / As a setback, I hate it / But I made it my endeavour to remain this clever.”).  Scraps of jazz piano, funky brass, and infectious samples dot Rotations’ songs, filling in the details on a record that sounds meticulously crafted but never over-produced. There is a lot of love and sophistication at work in Robinson’s densely packed tunes and lyrics. Rotations is the kind of record that offers up immediate gratification simply by putting it on while you go about your day, but it also stands up to a close listen and deep dive, unveiling its intricacies and sophistication. Robinson’s decision to use his own name is a no-brainer here; who wouldn’t want to put their name on a record so well performed, produced, and presented as Rotations?

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