Skyzoo is a Brooklyn emcee who’s been making waves since his debut album, The Salvation, dropped back in 2009. He’s achieved this not only through that record and his collaboration with !llmind, but also through a steady stream of mixtapes. Because of this barrage of music coming out of him, it might seem a little odd to realize that A Dream Deferred is actually only his second official solo album. The album reinforces all the praise that Skyzoo has been getting as a lyricist and performer, but also struggles with an inconsistent approach and quality of music that leaves me confused as to what Skyzoo hoped to accomplish with this record.

On “Jansport Strings (One Time For Chi-Ali),” produced by 9th Wonder, we get a clear demonstration of the appeal of Skyzoo, as he spits confidently over a great soulful beat as he pays loving tribute to one of his biggest influences growing up. He does a great job of painting the picture of what it was like growing up in his neighborhood and what finding this role model meant to him, all delivered with a great deal of charisma. It’s a great lead single, and definitely had me interested to see what else the album had to offer. Unfortunately, the rest of the album is very inconsistent, as there seems to be a push to have some commercial cross-over appeal, but it often comes across as awkward and ill-informed. The opening track, “Dreams in a Basement,” features Jill Scott on the hook, whom I love, but her vocals feel tacked on the rest of the song, and the outro, with a grandiose combination of synthesized strings and timpani, goes on way too long to be justified. “Pockets Full,” with Freeway, features a great laid back groove where two emcees trade verses and compliment each other’s styles well, and we’re treated to some great wordplay, but this is then all undone by a terrible synthesized horn solo/outro that never seems to end. “Give It Up,” with DJ Prince, brings in the dubstep, which at this point triggers some sort of negative Pavlovian response in me where I need to change the track as soon as I hear that “wub wub wub” come through my speakers. A good portion of the middle of the album is decent, but nothing particularly stands out until we get to track 11, “How To Make It Through Hysteria.” This is done with help from the production team of Best Kept Secret, who lay down a simple beat that pushes Skyzoo to deliver a hook that is understated, which plays much more to Skyzoo’s strength. It also pushes Skyzoo to lay down some of his most personal and emotional rhymes, once again giving us a glimpse of what the album could have been. Black Milk deliveries on a similar formula with “Steel’s Apartment,” which works to the same level of success. “Spike Lee Was My Here,” and “The Cost of Sleep,” produced by Tall Black Guy bring more synthesizers into the sound, but stay with the laid back beat that forces Skyzoo’s lyricism to step up to carry the verses. “Spike Lee” also features a guest spot from Talib Kweli, and as always, he doesn’t disappoint.

A Dream Deferred is a frustrating album, because the best of the album leads me to believe that the entire album could have been much more rewarding. “Jansport Strings” is a great single, and the last third of the album is very strong, with great lyricism and laid back grooves that is sure to appeal to fans of classic NYC hip hop. Skyzoo isn’t going to be a pop star, and the sooner that everyone stops trying to force these R&B/pop vocal collaborations on him, the stronger his albums will be. Hopefully his next effort will avoid these pitfalls.